Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Friday, 15 January 2010

Earthquake in Haiti brings UK community together

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News

A Spanish rescuer carries two-year-old Redjeson Hausteen
UK Haitians hope that rescuers will be able to find their missing relatives too

The deadly earthquake in Haiti has brought scattered Haitian communities and individuals living in the UK together, joined by their mutual concern and fear over what has happened to their loved ones back home.

For many of Britain's estimated 1,000 Haitian emigres, it will be the first time they have met other Haitians in the UK.

Up to 50,000 people on the Caribbean island are feared dead and millions more are known to be homeless. But the crippled communications network means very little information is getting out to the outside world.

It is a problem Shelane Chapman, who has been pacing the floors of her home for the past few days sick with worry, knows much about.

Shelane, from Downham in Kent, said: "We're sick with worry because we can't get through at all. We keep redialling my mother's mobile number but it just won't work. If the house has gone, where could she be? Where could they all be?"

Her mother, Gisele Augustine-Senatuy, 62, a pregnant sister and 11 other relatives, are missing.

Shelane Chapman
Shelane Chapman still does not know the whereabouts of her mother

Although she has heard rumours that her mother's house collapsed in the earthquake, killing her six-year-old cousin, she has been unable to verify the news.

The expectant mother has even opened an account on the social networking site Twitter specifically to help her try to contact her family and friends but it has not yet helped.

"My seven-year-old daughter Genevive is scared about what has happened to her gran. She said she wished she was a magician so she could make the bad thing that happened to Haiti go away," she said.

'Family trapped'

Another worried Haitian, Jean-Marc Flambert has taken a stoic approach to news of deaths in his family. He has 50 family members still in Haiti, but is already aware of his uncle's death.

He said: "My uncle who was recovering from cancer, was lying in bed with his wife when the concrete ceiling fell on him.

"He died immediately but his wife was there for three hours before she could be rescued. She is in pain but is relying on home remedies. There is just no point going to the hospital."

He is aware of other family members trapped in their homes but said he feels they are in a worse position as they are waiting to die.

"When I heard about my uncle, I thought it was better for him that he was dead than have to wait when rescuers probably would not be able to make it."

Jean-Marc Flambert
Jean-Marc Flambert wants to help the relief effort

The father-of-one said that part of him just wanted to jump on a plane and go out there and help.

"But I'm not a doctor, I can't drive a truck - I'd be draining resources. It is far better for me to be here and do what I can.

"I've got in touch with other Haitians and we're meeting on Saturday.

"When I first came here I was convinced there were very few of us around but now more of us are getting in contact and meeting up because of what has happened."

This is something Judith Craig of United Haitians in the UK (UHUK) can verify. She said the charity has seen its membership jump since the earthquake hit.

Pulling together

She attributed the increase to people wanting to find out more and seek solidarity with others.

She said Haitians in the UK were pulling together as "people's lives are dependent on this".

The charity supports a primary school in Port-au-Prince but they do not know what has happened to the pupils or the staff as they simply cannot get in touch with anyone linked to it.

Rubble in Port-au-Prince

Ms Craig said: "We are only a small charity but we want to do something to help in the long-term. Everybody has friends or family out there and we all want to help. We are trying to mobilise people and organise a fundraising concert in London on 23 January. We have to do something."

Barbara Jones, from Milton Keynes, feels she is one of the more lucky ones as she has finally been able to verify that most of her family are safe.

She said: "I had not heard from my mother, my cousins or my aunt, since the earthquake hit, but a relative in the US managed to get through to them and find out how they were.

"My mother is still missing but nobody else is hurt and their house in Petionville is just one of two or three buildings still standing in a street where there used to be many.

"I still have to speak to them but I feel relieved."

She plans to return home later this year and present her four-month-old baby Megan to her family - something at one point she feared would never happen.


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