Vermonters wait for word from disaster zone
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | January 14,2010
Carolyn Meub (third from left, top row) smiles in a picture taken last year in a classroom near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Meub, who lives in Rutland, said she doesn’t know how many of the people in the picture are still alive following an earthquake that leveled the city Tuesday.
Carolyn Meub received her first piece of good news from disaster-stricken Haiti on Wednesday afternoon.
A day after an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale flattened the island nation's capital city of Port-au-Prince and left what is likely thousands of people dead and thousands more homeless, Meub, executive director of Pure Water for the World, received her first communication from an employee in that country, who wrote an e-mail with the words "We're alive" in the subject line.
"Roman, Luben, Paul Emanuel, Jean Claude and families and Seb MP and I all Ok," wrote David Putt, interim director for Pure Water's Haiti branch. "Situation is chaotic. Terrible number of deaths and severe injuries. Almost all medical supplies are gone. Some people already out of water and food and many will be shortly. Pressure your government to get aid in here quickly."
As grim as the situation appeared in Putt's short missive, Meub, who runs the international nonprofit organization out of her home in Rutland, said she was relieved to know that many of the people she works with in Haiti are alive.
"Our main concern is for our staff's safety," Meub said.
For the past two years, Pure Water for the World has worked to provide clean water and education to 750 schools in Haiti, and the organization runs a factory that produces water filters in Cité Soleil, a shanty town on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.
Before the earthquake struck, Meub said she was planning a trip to Haiti on Sunday to review operations. Now, she said she's thinking about filling her bags with medical supplies and helping her staff and families begin to rebuild.
While the news for Meub on Wednesday was better than she hoped — not only were her employees alive but the factory was damaged but still standing — Danila Dinan of Burlington received the heartbreaking news that her brother's 9-year-old son died in the quake.
"I received an e-mail from my brother who was on the mountain when the earthquake struck," said Dinan, who grew up in Jacmel on the southern coast of Haiti. "He said his wife is OK but my nephew died last night and the house is gone. I don't know if my father is alive or not."
"There are 40,000 Americans in Haiti," she added. "This is a tragedy for all of us."
For Dinan, who has lived in the United States for 22 years, the wait for information from her homeland where Internet and phone service has been disrupted and movement in and out of the country has been curtailed, has been an agony.
What little news she has received came from her brother and from Haitian friends living in New York and Montreal.
"I can do nothing," she said. "All I can do is wait until I can get through."
While Dinan and others like her waited for news, an international relief effort continued to mobilize Wednesday, with the U.S. government pledging its aid and humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross appealing for donations to help.
"The best way to support relief in the disaster area is through a financial donation," said Robert Levine, regional director for the Vermont & New Hampshire Valley chapter of the Red Cross. "A number of people called today to donate goods and services but because an effort like this requires coordination, those donations might not make it to the island in a timely fashion. Money is the best way to speed relief."
Rick Schwag, director of Caribbean Medical Transport in Lyndonville, had a similar message.
"Everyone wants to get involved today and it's good that people want to get involved. But for small organizations to send goods that end up sitting in port getting in the way isn't the answer. There are a lot of logistics to an effort like this. It needs to be coordinated and at this point it will be run by large groups that have been preparing for this type of situation for years."
Schwag, whose organization facilitates the delivery of donated medical supplies in Vermont to destinations throughout the Caribbean, said those interested in helping the Haitians recover might want to wait to make contributions.
For his part, Schwag said he has assembled five containers of medical supplies to send to Haiti in likely a week's time.
"The reality is they're still going to be recovering from this weeks, months and years from now. That's the truth," he said.
Those interested in information or donating to Pure Water can call 747-0778 or visit purewaterfortheworld.org. Those interested in donating to the Red Cross can call (800) REDCROSS or visit www.nvtredcross.org. Those interested in contacting Caribbean Medical Transport can reach Schwag at email@example.com.