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Local Haitians hopeful as they watch and wait

Two days after the Caribbean nation of Haiti suffered a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake, leaving a suspected 50,000 dead and hundreds of thousands injured, some found reason for hope.

Eric Bernard cannot get through to his family in Port-au-Prince but has spent days in contact with others throughout the United States and Canada, comparing notes about what people know about the Haitian capital city.

"So far, so good," the Lexington man said. "We know now what has been hit most. We know what hospitals and schools are gone."

He mentions neighborhoods that he's seen on CNN, where the strongest and weakest houses were. He talks about listening to Haitian Internet radio, chatting with Facebook friends, gathering every bit of information that comes along and parsing that into meaningful reconnaissance.

"I know where my sister is, but no one can get down there because the roads are not passable," he said. "But her house is good."

Corbin's Choubert Remy has a "sense" that his family in Port-au-Prince is OK. He, too, has run down every lead. But it is his gut he's working off of along with "a couple of general overviews of the area" glimpsed in photographs and on TV.

That, and a knowledge that eventually he will know.

Some did know, as Thursday was a day of tempered relief.

New Hope Haiti Mission, with a base of operations in Kentucky, reported that "the kids and staff are safe. There is damage to our house. Stairs to second floor collapsed, and the back wall of property collapsed. Many of our supplies were destroyed."

Peterson Schick knows only that his sister, who lives in that orphanage, is OK. But he hasn't spoken to her. She was trapped, he said, but isn't now.

Schick, 21, of Nicholasville is living with the Swentzel family here, while he tries to get his visa. He was supposed to return home Monday.

"I feel like I have to be there. I wish to be there. I hate to say this, but I'm also happy to be safe," Schick said. "This has changed my life in a major way."

He explained how he has heard heartening stories about how the wealthy people in the mountains are helping the poor people in the city. "Everyone is getting together," he said, as though that was unheard of.

Schick explained, in his next breath, his concern that desperate people take desperate measures, and his country could be destroyed by this.

"I know Haitians. If they don't get help ..." he lets that sentence fall.

"My people are dying," he said. "As a Haitian, knowing the system, it's a very bad situation."

Reconnecting

Two mission groups from Capital City Christian Church in Frankfort who are stranded in Haiti were able to make contact again with the church late Wednesday.

The group of 15 was separated, with nine members in Jacmel, 30 miles south of Port-au-Prince, and the other six stuck in Fond Parisien, 60 miles east of the capital city, near Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic.

Clinton Hall, children's minister at the mission there, told the Herald-Leader:

"We are in Jacmel, Haiti, on the coast, south of Port-au-Prince. There are hundreds of people already confirmed dead and probably hundreds more still trapped in houses. ... The only way out of Jacmel is through the mountains, and the roads are destroyed by rock slides. The little airport has been turned into a tent town with thousands seeking refuge there.

"We met a wealthy businessman (Tuesday) night who gave us his phone number and told us where he lived. After sleeping on the yard (very little with all the aftershocks) we went to his house about 6:30 a.m. He had satellite Internet, phone and TV. We were able to call some loved ones to let them know we are safe. We lost Internet and phone shortly after 8 or so and continued to watch CNN coverage.

"We are surrounded by complete devastation ... It sounds like unless we get military units coming to get us, we are looking at days, if not weeks, before we can get anywhere. Right now we have a good food and water supply, but it has been suggested we start rationing."

The Fond Parisien volunteers got a text message out just before midnight Wednesday indicating that they were OK.

Connie Riddell, whose husband, Doug, is among that group, was only momentarily comforted.

"How long can they sustain this? It could days or weeks to get them out," she said, "and we don't know the conditions they are living in."

Her husband, she said, has only two weeks' worth of heart medication left.

Also, word came Wednesday around 11 p.m. from Jody Castillo, with Northwest Haiti Christian Mission, that her husband, Jose, has been helping survivors in Port-au-Prince. He sent word through a truck driver who managed to get a call through.

Jody Castillo reports "everyone is mourning as news continues to filter in" for the 300 employees at the medical mission facility.

Which is what is realistic on the third day after the quake.

"Because of the structures in the city," said Corbin's Remy, "I knew from the start it would be bad."

His biggest fear now: That those who need help won't get it. That the rescuers there now are in the wrong place. That his country cannot recover.

But first, he said, "we have to find a way to get lines of communication in so that the rest of us can know what is. Not knowing is the bad part."

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