Kin here scramble to reach Haiti loved ones

At Radio Vision Celeste in Northeast Philadelphia, commentator Jean Renel Boucher comforts station news director Fritz Momperousse, who awaits news about his family in Haiti. Yesterday, Boucher fielded calls from the reeling local Haitian community. He learned his son, 12, had survived.
At Radio Vision Celeste in Northeast Philadelphia, commentator Jean Renel Boucher comforts station news director Fritz Momperousse, who awaits news about his family in Haiti. Yesterday, Boucher fielded calls from the reeling local Haitian community. He learned his son, 12, had survived.
Posted: January 15, 2010

In a desperate trek, Roussel Deslouches flew last night from Philadelphia to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, where he will rent a motorcycle, cross the Haitian border, and penetrate disaster to search for his missing brother.

Deslouches, 46, a technician from the Northeast, dropped everything and headed south after hearing that his brother, Jean Robert, 38, was last seen dining in a packed restaurant on the first floor of a mall that collapsed during Tuesday's earthquake.

Although Deslouches believes the odds that his brother is alive are slim, he feels he must risk his own life for the chance that he might be.

"I can't let my brother die like that," Deslouches said last evening from a Florida airport, where he was about to begin the next leg of his journey.

And if the worst is true, Deslouches doesn't want the crumbled mall to be his tomb.

Throughout the Philadelphia region, Haitians and others with connections to the shattered nation were scrambling to reach those they loved.

Those who were unsuccessful were becoming increasingly distraught with the silence of each passing day.

"It's horrible. It's hell. I don't know how many family members I lost, to be honest with you," said Katucha Hector, 30, a junior architecture major at Drexel University and the niece of Deslouches. But she did get word that her father escaped the same restaurant collapse where her uncle has gone missing.

In the Cramer Hill section of Camden, a dozen members of the Hope Memorial Baptist Church packed into a small room near the sanctuary and spoke of the missing.

Eliezer Marcelles has 20 cousins who work in the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, which now lies in ruins. One of Marcelles' cousins is dead. The rest are unaccounted for.

Nanie Jean Baptise's brother, Marc Charles, is a Camden crossing guard. He was in Haiti visiting his newborn son and has not been heard from.

The lucky ones who got through just long enough to hear the voices of family before lines went dead were still worried how their kin would weather the coming days of what's bound to be an arduous recovery.

"It's chaotic out there," said Patrica Leveille, 20, a junior nursing major at Neumann University, who had just heard from her mother that her relatives were alive. "They're OK, but the house collapsed."

Tania Jeanty, 24, a graduate nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania, said her grandmother and cousin were camping out in their backyard, afraid aftershocks might crumble their shaken home. She was relieved when her cousin, who runs a Web cafe, reached her by phone about 12:30 yesterday for the first time since the earthquake. But the connection quickly ended.

"He said, 'Everybody's fine,' and he put Grandma on the phone," said Jeanty, of Maryland.

Meanwhile, the region's hospitals were organizing personnel to send. Aid groups were gathering donations and support. Makeshift benefits were springing up around the area.

Cooper University Hospital intends to send a 10-person team on a medical mission to Haiti, once the country is reopened to outside planes. A Philadelphia firefighter, Lt. John O'Neill, has been assigned to go to Haiti with others from across the country. O'Neil also was detached to New York after 9/11 and to New Orleans after Katrina.

Last night, Cabrini College held benefit boys' and girls' basketball games, said sophomore Quiana Volney, 19, a Haitian American, whose family still hasn't heard from her grandfather's brother.

"Right now," said the business-administration major, "a lot of prayer and money is needed."

Some struggled to put their own worries aside to help others.

When he learned yesterday that his son, Stevens, 12, had survived the quake in a suburb of Port-au-Prince, Jean Renel Boucher, a commentator on Radio Vision Celeste in Northeast Philadelphia, could not exult.

He was busy being grave in three languages, speaking somberly about the disaster to many of the estimated 90,000 Haitians in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey - in Creole, French, and English.

But during a break, Boucher, 39, a former Haitian police officer, finally exclaimed, "Oh, thank God! My heart was on a roller-coaster. When I saw pictures of hurt children on the news Wednesday, I just crashed. I had to cry. But my Stevens is alive!"

Surviving on apple juice and adrenaline, Boucher was on the air for 12 hours yesterday, often fielding calls from the reeling local Haitian community, desperate for news about loved ones.

It was a sad, impossible job for Boucher and station news director Fritz Momperousse. "My son is a security guard in a government building," one frantic caller said. "Is he alive?"

Boucher shook his head at the microphone and said gently: "We cannot give you specific information about your special one. I am sorry."

On it went throughout the day, the callers relentless, Boucher earnest but grim. Sitting under a single lightbulb in a makeshift studio in the bedroom of a private home, Boucher absorbed others' ache and apprehension.

He added that, as a former police officer, he knows the hearts of Haitians. "These people are strong," he said. "They will not leave their citizens buried. They will lift the bricks with their hands."

That is what Deslouches plans to do when he arrives at the collapsed mall where his brother was last seen. Once landing in Santo Domingo, he hopes to take a taxi to the border, where he will look to rent a motorcycle and begin navigating the battered roads that lead to Port-au-Prince.

Deslouches, a father of three who has lived in Northeast Philadelphia for more than 20 years, will join his brother-in-law there and others to search for his brother in the rubble of the five-story mall.

If they can't dig him out, he said, they will go to the embassy for help.

Katucha Hector didn't want her uncle to go.

"I told him to not risk his life," she said. "I can't take any more."

Hector's sister Gaelle, 24, and brother Phillipe, 25, also attend Drexel and are anxiously awaiting word from their relatives.

They have talked with their father, who made it out of the restaurant alive.

"When we reach him, it's for two seconds through cell phones," Katucha said.

She last spoke to her missing uncle on her recent birthday: "He told me to get married soon and have children. He's like my second father."


TV, Radio Telethon Today

On-air personalities from seven television and radio stations will take pledges during a 14-hour telethon today for the Red Cross International Response Fund.

The effort, Operation Brotherly Love, will run from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. and benefit Haitian earthquake victims, said a spokeswoman for the television stations CBS3 and the CWPhilly

News staffers will make appeals at the top of every hour and in news segments.

Scheduled to participate are Susan Barnett, Chris May, Pat Ciarrocchi, Liz Keptner, Jim Donovan, Natasha Brown, and Dave Huddleston from CBS3 and the CWPhilly.

Cadillac Jack from WOGL-FM (98.1); Ike Reese from WIP-AM (610); Dom Giordano of WPHT-AM (1210); Mike DeNardo from KYW Newsradio; and Spike, Jennifer Reed, and Metro from WYSP-FM (94.1) will also be manning the phones.

To contribute, viewers and listeners can call 1-877-KYW3-ASK (1-877-599-3275) or go to www.cbs3.com.


Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

Contributing to this article were staff writers Miriam Hill, Darran Simon, Mike Newall, and Kathy Boccella.

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