New York Haitian Community Reacts To Quake

New York is home to one of the largest Haitian communities in the United States. NPR's Robert Smith reports on how the community is responding to the earthquake in their homeland.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

In many Haitian communities here in the U.S., people tried frantically today to reach their relatives back in the island nation.

NPR's Robert Smith reports from one of those Haitian neighborhoods, East Flatbush, in Brooklyn, New York.

ROBERT SMITH: The Pascal(ph) Bakery on Church Street specializes in Haitian meat patties. Everyone in the store gets quiet when President Obama comes on the TV screen. They've been watching scenes of devastation in Haiti since the store opened this morning, and that someone was finally promising help.

Jean-Pierre Laguerre(ph) was working behind the counter and turned away from the speech.

JEAN-PIERRE LAGUERRE: There's always been no offer. They will help. They will do this, they will do that, but they never really - just words.

SMITH: When the president was finished, the customers went back to their cell phones.

Raymond Soli(ph) kept calling her cousins.

RAYMOND SOLI: I tried to talk to them, but I don't receive no communication. Exactly, they try very hard. The communication was in bad grade, so now it's become worse. It's a big problem.

SMITH: Word spread quickly on Church Street that the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, and Governor David Paterson were coming to the Catholic Church just down the road. People from the community filed in to hear what help would be offered.

Cheryl Hall, who runs the Caribbean Women's Health Association, was looking forward to someone finally coordinating the aid response.

CHERYL HALL (Executive Director, Caribbean Women's Health Association): Everyone knows that they want to help. We've been getting a lot of phone calls, but they don't know what to do.

SMITH: Hall wanted to send some of her doctors down to Haiti and perhaps have them take some food and clothing along.

Mayor Bloomberg had to tell the crowd that this was probably out of their hands.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): This is not something where you can send a can of food to help, or a bottle of water. There isn't an infrastructure, and the magnitude of the problem just dwarfs anything that any one individual or even just our city can do.

SMITH: Bloomberg encouraged people to send money. But he had to admit that even New York City rescue teams and building engineers could not go to Haiti until there was a structure in place.

Kerling Deston(ph) is still waiting to hear from most of her family back in Haiti, but she left the church feeling hopeful.

KERLING DESTON: That makes me proud to see that there's people that want to help us, you know? We're from a little, small island, but there's a lot of people who have big heart.

SMITH: And now, just like everyone else in East Flatbush, she has to wait to see what happens.

Robert Smith, NPR News, New York.

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