Haitians in Washington

Washington area Haitians pray, wait for news after quake

The Silver Spring home of Clodette Mompoint is filled with prayer, song and anguish as Haitian Americans pray for the victims of yesterday's earthquake.
By William Wan and Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 14, 2010

For years, Elsie Delson has worried about the 10-year-old son she left behind in Haiti -- the son she couldn't afford to bring along as her family fled to the United States. Now, that decision weighs heavily on her soul.

In the wake of Tuesday's devastating earthquake in Haiti, Delson has frantically tried to call her parents, who care for her son in Port-au-Prince. Like many of the estimated 20,000 Haitian immigrants in the Washington area, she stayed up the night after the earthquake crying, praying and crying some more.

"I ask God what has happened, but I do not know. Nobody knows what happened, who is alive and who is not," she whispered in French at a prayer meeting Wednesday in Silver Spring. As she spoke, women around her cried out with loud Creole hymns and fervent prayers: "Protect them, God! O God who saves us. Protect them all!"

Across the Washington region and the country, from small enclaves of Haitians in Alexandria and Adelphi to huge communities in Miami and New York, similar stories of distress and uncertainty played out in churches, living rooms and offices.

Two priests -- the Rev. Arsene Jasmin, who heads Haitian outreach for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, and one of his predecessors, the Rev. Andre Pierre, who lives in Haiti -- had not been heard from since the quake, the archdiocese said.

Jasmin, who conducts Creole masses at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Columbia Heights, St. Camillus in Silver Spring and Our Lady of Sorrows in Takoma Park, had flown to Haiti on Monday for a retreat.

On Wednesday, Haitian immigrants spent hours trying to call loved ones. That's how Rudolph Chandler, a Haitian-born international health economist in Northwest Washington, heard that an elderly aunt whose house had collapsed around her was pulled from the wreckage alive.

But no word yet, Chandler said, about his cousin's wife, who works at the United Nations headquarters, which collapsed. Nor had he heard anything about another cousin, who is a surgeon in Port-au-Prince. The doctor is adept at using mobile communications, Facebook and Twitter, which has made his silence all the more unnerving, Chandler said.

For some, when news finally arrived, it was grim.

"A friend called. Her mom was stuck in the rubble. Her mom just died," said Arielle Jean-Baptiste, 50, of Silver Spring, who received text messages from Haiti early Wednesday. "The son of a friend, he was at the funeral parlor he worked in. He didn't make it."

All day, hope mixed with fear at Eglise Baptiste du Calvaire in Adelphi, one of the largest Haitian churches in Washington's suburbs.

Kneeling on the ground, Maude Cassamajor asked God to watch over her father, brother, sister and friends. Overnight, she had tried to reach them, burning through almost all of her calling cards -- expensive treats usually reserved for short calls three times a week.

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