Haitian Radio Host Helps Listeners Cope In Earthquake's Aftermath

Two days after a massive earthquake rocked Haiti, a clearer picture of the devastation is beginning to emerge. The capital city of Port-au-Prince is in ruins, and several thousands are believed to be dead. Ralph Cheriza anchors a news program at WPBR-AM, a radio station serving Hatians living in Florida, he's been reporting and fielding questions and concerns from the large Haitian community there. Cheriza explains how his listeners are coping with the unknown fate of their loved ones living in Haiti.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Two days after a massive earthquake hit Haiti, we are getting a clearer picture of just how devastating it was. According to eyewitnesses, it's a terrifying sight. The capital city of Port-au-Prince is in ruins, and tens of thousands are believed to be dead. It still isn't clear how many.

For those of us here in the U.S. with friends and relatives or coworkers there, the anxiety is heightened by the fact that there is limited communication to the outside world. Telephone lines are down, and radio stations are largely without broadcast capabilities.

We will spend much of today's program learning more about the situation. In a few minutes, we'll hear from a member of Congress who will talk with us about how the U.S. government might be most helpful. We'll talk with a policy expert who focuses on the Caribbean.

But first, we go to journalist Ralph Cheriza. He is a news anchor at WPBR 1340 AM, a radio station in Florida that serves the Haitian community. He's been reporting and fielding questions and concerns from the large community there, and he joins us now. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. RALPH CHERIZA (News Anchor, WPBR 1340 a.m.): Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: Ralph, first of all, I do want to ask, how are your folks? I mean, if -do you have people back home, and have you been able to get in touch with them?

Mr. CHERIZA: Well, I have my mother there and a brother and a sister. I just talked to by brother earlier today, finally, and he's doing fine. The house that he has in Carrefour is lost. So we lost that house. But other than that, they are fine.

MARTIN: I'm very glad to hear that. I'm sure you're very relieved, too.

Mr. CHERIZA: Very relieved.

MARTIN: And what about other listeners calling into to your program? What are they saying? What's on their minds?

Mr. CHERIZA: Well, everybody's anxious because we're not able to communicate with our relatives in Haiti. People have been trying to call, and those calls are not going through. And from the statement that we're getting from official back in - back home, we're not as sure what's going on.

So, people wants to - they want to know exactly what is going on and what they can do. We've had community meetings where we're trying to organize some of the things that we could do. Nurses, doctors wants to go, but right now, we do not know exactly what's possible and what's not possible.

MARTIN: And I was going to ask, are you getting any direction from the Haitian government? I know we've seen the President Preval on a couple of American news outlets and we've seen an AP, Associated Press report from him. But has there been any communication from the government offering direction about what they would like people to do?

Mr. CHERIZA: Well, that's the frustration, because we have not gotten any information, at least here in Palm Beach County, where several organizations have tried to reach out to the Haitian Consulate in Miami and see if there's any direction that we could get from them. We are not in the position of - they are not in a position of telling us anything because they have a problem communicating with the central government in Port-au-Prince.

And we are just trying to - we hope today that we get some information, because some people have been able this morning to call here in the United States. So we are confident that we'll be able to establish communication so that we have a direction and know what to do.

MARTIN: Were you able to speak with your brother, and apart for him being able to assure you that he and the rest of your family are well, what else - was he able to be tell you anything else about their circumstances? For example, where are they finding shelter? Is there any water?

Mr. CHERIZA: Well´┐Ż

MARTIN: Is there any food?

Mr. CHERIZA: Well, that's - what he told me is that they are on the street. They can not go inside to see even what they - is there anything inside the house that they could get. So, they are outside. And as far as food is concerned, it's a challenge because you don't have access to anything, and the banks are - because we are trying - I ask him, do you want me to make a (unintelligible)? He say, well, it's not possible because most of the banks around us, they are destroyed. And his words was that Port-au-Prince is destroyed right now.

MARTIN: Hmm. How did he sound?

Mr. CHERIZA: Oh, he is very - he's - he was - I could feel the tears. His voice was shaken. And I know my brother. He's very, very strong, but when I talked to him today, he was trying to tell me that he's okay. But I know that he's very scared right now.

MARTIN: As are, I'm sure, many people. And I understand that you went to a meeting with community organizers in the West Palm Beach area to talk about what it is that people might do. What are community leaders telling people right now? Obviously, your instinct is to want to go, but I don't know if that's - is that the best thing to do right now? What are you telling people? What are community leaders telling you?

Mr. CHERIZA: Oh, well, what we're trying to do is to make sure that we have a water supply, medical supply, ready to go. And we're trying to organize that. And there's a few of health care professional, Haitian health care professional who are willing to go to Haiti. And the frustration is that we do not know that it's okay to go, and we're trying to find out. Myself, I'm willing to go. I'm ready to go. I've consulted with my family and told them that I will go as soon as possible.

But that's a frustration. The churches are trying to plan certain things to see - to offer some comfort. We had a prayer meeting. We're going to have a prayer vigil tonight in some of the churches on Saturday(ph), see if we can comfort each other. That's the extent of what we can do right now, and we're trying to make contact, everybody who has some resources available to tap into those resources, to see what we can do, what we can come up with. But we're still frustrated because we do not know even when we get those supplies...

MARTIN: All right.

Mr. CHERIZA: ...when we're going to be able to send them to Haiti.

MARTIN: Journalist Ralph Cheriza is a news anchor at WPBR 1340 AM in Lake Worth, Florida, and he joined us from there. Thank you so much for speaking with us, and good luck to you and to your family.

Mr. CHERIZA: Thank you very much.

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