“I was in Miami when I learned there was an earthquake,” said Haitian-born Marathon resident Patrick Henry, whose wife and children are still in the ravaged island nation. “I could not contact anybody. Then this morning, I was waiting at the bus stop by Walgreen’s to go to work, and she called me. Nobody died. I was so happy about it. I am so lucky. I have a daughter, five years old. She’s just five years old.”
Henry has been working with Dot Palm, a Keyswide landscaping and lawn maintenance company for over nine years. So far, he’s been unable to bring his wife, parents or four children to Marathon. Instead, they stayed behind in the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation, Haiti, where on Tuesday; a magnitude 7 earthquake shook the island. Early estimates are claim 50,000 dead, but many are still trapped in the rubble.
Henry’s family lived in a castle in Carrefcur, one of the most devastated Haitian cities.
“The house came down,” Henry said, relaying information from his wife. “Nobody was in the house. I am so lucky.”
Unfortunately, his 15-year old son did not emerge unscathed. He suffered a broken leg, and at this time medical treatment is not an option. His two eldest children are reported as unharmed.
Henry’s co-workers are not as fortunate.
Jean Alexis spoke with his stepmother today. She told him she has been unable to locate his wife of three years and 18-month old son, Joann Dehlia, who reside in Delmar.
“It was tough today. It was hard to work today,” explained Gigi Harrison, Dot Palm co-owner.
Gigi and her husband John have employed many Haitians since they opened 10 years ago.
“Our hearts really go out to these guys and their families. We’re hoping and praying just like they are,” she said tearfully.
Another man who works alongside Alexis and Henry, Jean Michael, has been glued to the television from the corner of his bed. He is as shaken as his homeland, and has not received word from any of his relatives – his brothers, sisters, parents, wife, or 18-year old daughter.
“No calls, no texting, no nothing,” Michael said. “I want to go. I really, really want to go and find my family alive, but the job is slow, and I only work one day a week. I have bills to pay and no money to send to my family. I can’t get in communication with any of them.”
Such situations have opened up the hearts of Keys’ residents and business owners. Gigi and John Harrison have designated their office located at MM 52 as a relief drop-off location. They’re asking for any goods to aid in the relief effort.
“Light weight items are going to be less costly to ship by air,” notes John. “We’re looking for Band-Aids, Slim Jims, anything light in weight.”
The company will ship canned foods, but reminds everyone: utensils and can openers are not going to be accessible in the ravaged country. He recommends pop-tops so survivors can eat the food. John emphasized with the distress and grief his employees are feeling, he will give them any time off they may need to return to Haiti.
Other Keys’ businesses are mobilizing efforts to aid Haitians here and in the ravaged country.
First State Bank is teaming up with local businesses, schools, churches and the American Red Cross and set up a Haiti Relief Fund bank account for cash donations and has designated its 11 branches as collection points for cash donations, clothing, blankets and other needed items.
First State Bank has also rallied its employees by matching their collective donations as a humanitarian gesture of good will. All cash donations will be forwarded to the International Red Cross, which works closely with the U.S. Government and other international agencies on such disasters.
“First State Bank is proud to partner with local businesses, schools, churches and the American Red Cross to help the people of Haiti during their time of need.” said Don Lanman, Senior Vice President.
All Keys citizens are encouraged to make cash donations and collect items needed for the survivors of the earthquake including clean clothes, blankets, towels, diapers and shoes. Donated items can be delivered to any of First State Bank’s 11 branch offices from Key Largo to Key West.
Those effected like Henry and his Dot Palm colleagues are counting on the community’s support. He’s already booked a flight for January 22 and will be taking four suitcases stocked with essential items.
“Medicine, anything I can. Clothes, shoes… anything I can take I’m taking with me,” Henry said.
He’s desperately waiting to hold his wife, Kettlemen Vilme. “We’ve been married for a year and a half. She is okay,” Henry says with a smile.
Response from Our Representatives
A day after the catastrophe, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said in a released statement that U.S. Government stands ready to provide the immediate assistance necessary to help the survivors of the tragedy.
The State Department, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard and US AID are working around the clock to ensure that critical resources are positioned to support the response and recovery effort, including efforts to find and assist American citizens in Haiti.
Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DARTs) are also being prepared.
Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen said, “The South Florida community stands in solidarity with our Haitian-American brethren as we try to do all that we can to help Haiti.”
She and her South Florida colleagues, Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, sent a letter to President Obama requesting immediate humanitarian aid and temporary protected status against deportation.
Gov. Charlie Crist and Haitian-born State Representative Yolly Roberson met with disaster officials in Miami.
U.S. Representative Kendrick Meek, who represents the part of Miami known as Little Haiti, appeared on various news shows.
“Security is very important,” he said on MSNBC. “You will have undesirables that will prey upon those with unsecured structures and businesses.”
Meek sent out e-mails directing people to his U.S. Senate campaign Web site where people could donate money.
Any of First State Bank’s 11 Locations
Harvey Government Center
Monroe County Government Center
Murray Nelson Government Center
Cereals, bottled water, canned juice, soda, powdered milk, dry food, canned baby food, diapers, clothes, blankets, towels, socks (only items in good condition will be accepted), candles, flashlights, batteries, aspirin, band-aids, gauze, hygiene products, and calling cards.
Items with expiration dates prior to April 1, 2010 will NOT be accepted. Monroe County Public Works personnel will transport all donated goods to designated sites in Miami-Dade for deployment to Haiti.
American Red Cross
5450 MacDonald Avenue #11
Text: Haiti to 90999 to send a $10 donation
Every day is wrenching for DOT Palm employee Jean Alexis. He has spoken with his stepmother since the earthquake hit Haiti, but she tells him they have not been able to locate his wife and son.
A sheer stroke of luck put Patrick Henry in touch with his wife via phone. She is alive and so are Henry’s four children. He will leave January 22 to go see them and bring aid to those there.