Marylanders continue to mobilize to join the massive relief effort heading toward Haiti and try to establish contact with colleagues and loved ones in the earthquake-stricken country.
Douglas Bright, IMA World Health Vice President, said Thursday that he still had no word from the Carroll County-based relief agency's senior staff members who were in Port au Prince this week, nor have they heard from the five Haitians who worked at IMA's offices in the capital.
Three senior staffers, including two Marylanders, had just concluded a meeting at the landmark Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince when it was destroyed. Officials with the New Windsor-based coalition of faith-based relief groups have been unable to reach President Richard L. Santos of Silver Spring, program officer Ann Varghese of Baltimore or Dr. Sarla Chand of New Jersey.
"We are going over everything we know and contacting other relief organizations to make sure we have not missed any bases," Bright said. "We are calling continually our office, the families of our people here and every contact number we have. We certainly are not giving up hope and we are preparing for our folks return so we can care for them here."
IMA has partnered with a team from the University of Notre Dame on combating lymphatic filariasis, a tropical disease that affects many Haitians. Santos, Varghese and Chand were meeting with several from the university shortly before the quake, Bright said. Several of the Notre Dame group were en route to South Bend today, he said. But they had no information about the IMA people.
A group from International Resource Development in northern Virginia planned to leave for Haiti this afternoon and have assured IMA that they will search for Santos, a former IRD employee.
"IRD has assured us that they are going to actively search for our people," Bright said. "Several know Rick and would recognize him."
IMA is waiting to send any of its own people, he said. "IRD has an emergency response team and equipment to handle this situation," he said.
IMA, which is celebrating its 50th year in global relief work, is also discussing what immediate steps it will take to provide aid to Haiti.
"We are talking with our pharmaceutical suppliers to see what will be available quickly so we can get help there as soon as possible," Bright said. "Almost anything we send will have to go by air."
It may be too soon to send too much, he said.
"This is a country without resources or infrastructure and it is coping with a disaster that will exceed Hurricane Katrina in destructiveness," Bright said. "It can only handle so much right now with what little there is left. But we are definitely in this for the long haul."
Siblings OK in Haiti
Lani Bersch is breathing a little easier now that she's learned that her daughter and son both survived the earthquake in Haiti uninjured. Her 29-year-old daughter, KC, runs a mission for disabled children just outside Port-au-Prince, and her 21-year-old son, Alec, was visiting while on semester break from his studies at Towson University, she said.
"As awful as all of this is, my kids are alive and I'm grateful for that," Bersch said by telephone while taking a break from her job at a hearing and speech agency in Baltimore. She had just received an instant message from her son, the first word she'd received from or about him since the disaster.
"There are tons of people trying to find out if their family is alive," the northeast Baltimore resident said. "At least I know my kids are live. So I'm grateful for small things."
Bersch, 57, was within days of traveling to Haiti herself when the earthquake struck. "I have my tickets, I was headed down this Sunday," she said, to join in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of St. Joseph's Home for Boys, an orphanage in the Haitian capital that has grown over the years into three separate charitable institutions, with the other two outside the city.
The boys' home in Port-au-Prince was devastated by the temblor, Bersch said, and two people were hurt in the building collapse. The school for disabled where her daughter works, Wings of Hope, is in the mountains outside of town, at Fermathe. Part of that building was damaged, too, but a portion remains habitable, and the youngsters from St. Josephs have taken shelter there, about 60 people crowded into a building that normally houses about half that many.
None of the Bersch family had heard directly from KC, said another brother, David Bersch, 26, of Baltimore. "We've been receiving emails from people that have been able to access computers," he explained. "We've not physically talked to her." With telephone service down, the sporadic Internet communications are all that have gotten through, he said.