Online networking critical in Haiti tragedy

January 15, 2010 7:15:31 AM PST
Networking online and over the phone has been critical for people in the Chicago area who are desperate for word about loved ones in Haiti. Those desperate for word are using any means. The communication - to and from - Haiti is not dependable. So Chicagoans are piecing together information from any technology available.

Facebook groups like "Find Family in Haiti" are designed so families can post pictures of their loved ones and ask for help locating them.

Other groups, such as "Earthquake Haiti," have more than 100,000 members sharing information about disaster relief.

Jeanette Attisso, a Rogers Park teacher, has been parked in front of her computer and connected to her phone to get word from her husband and dear friends in Haiti.

"For one second you're so happy that you find somebody that is there who's alive and the next second you find out somebody has died," said Attisso.

Her husband escaped a crumbling building after the earthquake. Now she's trying to help others get information about their loved ones.

Her husband is gathering information about survivors so Attisso can share information on social networking sites. But connecting with her husband by phone is difficult. After an hour and a half, she finally got through Thursday evening. She took down the information he has collected and is eager to share survivors' stories on her Facebook page. And she shares information about those still searching for relatives.

In the North Park neighborhood, a mother and daughter use social networking to find out about loved ones.

"I need to get on there and send a message somebody may know something," said Keisha Saintil.

Keisha Saintil already heard sad news Thursday about her paternal grandparents. They did not survive. Now they search for information about her maternal grandparents.

"I'm just keeping faith that my maternal grandparents are alive and well you just have to stay strong and encourage and stand as one," said Keisha Saintil.

"If I'm thinking, I try not to worry, to stay in faith and pray that everything is okay with them," said Gigi Saintil, Keisha's mother.

Back in Rogers Park on Thursday night, Attisso was still working the phones after getting information from her husband. This time she gave a stranger good news. "He wanted me to let you know that everybody is okay," said Attisso.

Jeanette Attisso runs a library in Port-Au-Prince. She fears some of the children may have been in the building at the time of the quake. While ABC7 visited with her, she got a call about her library manager who survived.

Chicago mobilizes to send Haiti relief aid

There are many organizations and agencies in Chicago and the suburbs ramping up their efforts to send aid and relief to the earthquake victims in Haiti.

Keisha Saintil is worried about her grandparents - a couple that split their time between Chicago and Haiti - because she and her family haven't been able to contact them.

"You're just on your toes. You have faith, but you're on your toes. You just, you want to do something about it right now, not a minute, not an hour from now, not two days, right now," said Saintil.

Such urgency is understandable to Dr. Yves-Mario Piverger who has spent the last 48 hours on the phone and on the Web trying to find durable medical equipment to be sent to his homeland.

"I still can't comprehend the level of devastation," said Dr. Piverger.

Dr. Piverger was in the country just two weeks ago organizing for a trip that was planned for may when he and colleagues from the charity Compassionate Response were to offer medical services to the already beleaguered people of Port-Au-Prince. Now he wants people to think hard about how to best help now.

"When we speak of disaster relief we need to speak in terms of coordination of personnel and coordination of we can't have five Dr. Pivergers running in five directions we really need to bring forth a converted medical plan," said Dr. Piverger.

That plan involves working with physicians at Metro South Medical Center to get such items as electro-cardiogram units, ultra sound machines, syringes and basic IV equipment to Haiti.

It's machinery nurses can work with and Thursday Cook County authorized pay for several staff nurses to head to the earthquake zone.

"Our commitment to public service as county employees requires each of us to put the needs of our community first...that includes providing comfort and relief to our brothers and sisters across the global village," said Todd Stroger, Cook County Board president.

County hospital nurse Margarette Dupiton will be among the first.

"By me going over there, I think, every person that I bump into with an injury, I can do something to help them," said Dupiton.

That something is the first wave of help to salvage the situation. Dr. Piverger says what follows is will be key.

"Once that is done we need a second wave of individuals who can come in and reestablish a medical infrastructure and then we need a third wave of individuals who can come in to support the needs of that infrastructure," said Dr. Piverger.

But Keisha Saintil's parents are preparing to go to Haiti now and search themselves for their loved ones.

"I'm just keeping faith that my maternal grandparents are alive and they are well. You just have to stay strong," said Saintil.

Other Chicago organizations are mobilizing for Haiti including the Heartland Alliance which is sending a team next week to assess what needs to be done on the ground. And the Red Cross confirms that the Obama administration's program to raise money for it through text messaging has received $5 million in just over two days.

If you text Haiti to 90999 on your cell phone, you give $10 to the Red Cross the charge appears on your bill.

"The speed, the reach and the globalness, the international community that's formed has surpassed anything that I've seen before. It's fast and it's heartfelt," said Booth.

Little Village organizations collect aid items

Some organizations in Chicago's Little Village neighborhood are gathering items to send to Haiti.

The community's chamber of commerce and Our Lady of Guadalupe Anglican Catholic Mission are teaming up in the effort.

"We are calling on the community, all the communities to be in solidarity with Haiti now," said Rev. Jose Landaverde, Our Lady Of Guadalupe.

Among the items they are gathering are clothing, diapers and non-perishable foods. They hope to get the items to Haiti by the end of next week.