Douglas Bright, vice president of institutional advancement… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
As Haiti begins the process of rescue and recovery from Tuesday's devastating earthquake, Baltimore residents and relief agencies await word from loved ones and colleagues — and are starting to mobilize aid.
The quake has left officials of IMA World Health, a Carroll County-based coalition of relief groups, praying for the safety of three senior staff members who were visiting Haiti.
IMA, which has maintained an office in the Port au Prince area since 2000, has not heard from newly installed president Richard Santos and two other senior staffers — Ann Varghese, program officer, of Baltimore, and Dr. Sarla Chand of New Jersey — who were in Haiti for meetings with hospital and education officials. They had just finished at meeting at the Hotel Montana minutes before the quake, said Douglas Bright, IMA's vice president for institutional advancement.
"We are all worried about our colleagues and know that they are in the midst of a truly traumatic situation," Bright said. "We are not releasing any information on their families here. In fact, we are acting as a barrier and giving them all the support we can given the uncertainty. They are as stressed as we are and have been unable to reach their loved ones through numerous channels."
Bright said that he had received information about 4 a.m. from a third party, a person who had been at the same meeting as the IMA staffers, that all those in the meeting had gotten out of the hotel. But, he said he has heard nothing since and is now unsure of the accuracy of that message.
IMA was preparing hundreds of its signature medicine boxes for shipment to Haiti. Each contains about 70 pounds of first-aid supplies, vitamins and prescription medicines, including pain relievers and antibiotic creams and bandages.
IMA, made up of a dozen faith-based relief and development organizations, is headquartered in New Windsor.
Catholics reach out
Meanwhile, Catholic Relief Services was dispatching personnel from around the world to Haiti and committing an initial $5 million for emergency relief.
"That number will go up," spokesman John Rivera said Wednesday morning. Also in its initial response, the Baltimore-based organization was planning to distribute emergency supplies for 1,000 families warehoused in Haiti and import supplies for 500 more families from the Dominican Republic.
CRS maintains a staff of about 300 in Haiti, including 120 in Port-au-Prince. Rivera said the CRS office there survived the earthquake, but a building across the street collapsed. He said staff at the Port-au-Prince office remained there through the night, but slept outside for fear of damage from aftershocks.
Rivera said Wednesday morning that all international staff had been located. CRS officials were still trying to account for all of the organization's Haitian employees, who form the majority of its workforce.
In a message to CRS headquarters Wednesday morning, country director Karel Zelenka described the damage as "incredible."
"People have been screaming and praying all over the place throughout the night," Zelenka wrote. "It is a disaster of the century, we should be prepared for thousands and thousands of dead and injured."
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, spiritual leader of the area's half million Catholics, is asking parishes to take up a special collection this weekend for Haiti. In a letter Wednesday, O'Brien also asked for prayers for the suffering and the dead, including Archbishop Serge Milot of Port-au-Prince.
The Archdiocese of Baltimore helps to fund schools and feed children in its sister diocese of GonaÃÂ¯ves, 75 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Dr. Rodrigue Mortel, who manages the Haiti Outreach Project for the archdiocese, spoke with his sister in the port town of Saint-Marc, midway between Port-au-Prince and GonaÃÂ¯ves, shortly after the earthquake.
"I could hear people screaming," said Mortel, director of the archdiocese's missions office. "Everybody was in the street. There was panic."
Mortel said the students at the three schools the archdiocese supports in GonaÃÂ¯ves and Saint-Marc were safe. A surgeon, he was planning to join a Catholic Relief Services team headed to the island.
"Haiti is not equipped to handle any disaster," Mortel said. "It is extremely poor economically. There is no organized disaster relief in the country."
Difficult recovery ahead
Dr. Christina Catlett knows first-hand the hardships people in Haiti face on a daily basis, having co-led three medical missions to the impoverished nation. When asked to sum up what Haiti must be enduring following Tuesday's devastating earthquake, the Johns Hopkins emergency physician struggled to fight back tears.
"Every time I come out from a mission in Haiti I cry for a week," she said. "It is a country with such significant economic issues and health issues that it doesn't seem fair to have this superimposed disaster on top of it."