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Grieving local Haitians struggle to reach relatives

As news about Haiti's devastating earthquake trickles in, Long Island relief efforts to provide food, money, clothing and other aid are being hampered by the Caribbean country's communication issues, local officials said.

"The story is unraveling slowly because of a lack of communication there," the Rev. William Gomes of St. Boniface Parish in Elmont said Wednesday morning.

>>PHOTOS: Chaos and tragedy after Haiti hit by 7.0 earthquake

The Catholic church has a large Haitian membership, and Gomes said he is working with the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre to coordinate relief efforts.

"I'm awaiting directions from the dioceses," Gomes said.

Sean Dolan, a diocese spokesman, said some type of relief effort was being organized but could not be specific on Wednesday morning.

"There is something going on but it is in the formative stages right now," Dolan said. "We have plans in the works."

The dioceses is expected to release its plans later Wednesday, Dolan said.

As people like Gomes try to arrange for assistance, others - like the Rev. Ronel Charelus of Westbury - are busy trying to locate family members.

The Rev. Charelus, a native of Haiti who works at St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church in Westbury, said he has been trying without success to call Haiti to see if relatives and friends survived.

"I have no words to express my feelings, my sorrow, my grief, because we, as a poor country - that is too much for us," he said, referring to Haiti's worst earthquake in 200 years.

He also noted that the country suffered four devastating hurricanes last year. He said the Haitian community on Long Island is "very, very, very shocked" by the latest tragedy.

Another Haitian native, Nicole Jean of Rosedale, is trying to get in touch with Port-au-Prince resident Marie Telismond, the mother of Jdimytai Damour, who was trampled to death at the Valley Stream Walmart on Black Friday in 2008.

"I haven't been in touch with anybody," said Jean, who was friends with Telismond and Damour's family. Calls placed to Telismond's phone number have not gotten through, she said, and neither did calls to her cousins in the Carrefour neighborhood.

Jean said Telismond lived in a two-story concrete apartment building close to the Petionville neighborhood, which was reportedly heavily damaged by Tuesday's earthquake. Telismond moved from Haiti to New York in 1970, and returned to Port-au-Prince when she retired.

"I'll be glad to get in touch with her," Jean said.

At the Haitian Consulate in New York City, phones appeared to be ringing off the hook. When asked about relief efforts, a woman said the office was taking names and phone numbers in an effort to return phone calls.

According to reports, the United States is sending a disaster relief team to Haiti to assist victims of a powerful earthquake, as part of a coordinated American response that includes the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security.

In an Associated Press story, Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said a disaster response team "will be going in today."

A 7.0-magnitude earthquake Tuesday caused thousands of buildings to collapse in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

With Bart Jones and Sophia Chang

>>PHOTOS: Frantic rescue effort in Haiti | Deadliest recent earthquakes

>> LIVE: Twitter coverage of the scene in Haiti, from aid agencies, and reaction worldwide

>> VIDEOS: Latest videos from Haiti and on LI

>> MORE: Read more about LIers grieving and LI's efforts to help | Latest news from Haiti | Haiti's road to chaos: 2006 Newsday series



* You can help immediately by texting "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be charged to your cell phone bill and given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts.

* Wyclef Jean, a rapper and hip-hop artist from Haiti, urged people to text "Yele" to 501501 to donate $5 toward earthquake relief. Yéle Haiti is a grassroots movement inspiring change in Haiti through programs in education, sports, the arts and environment, according to its Web site.

* The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747. The Red Cross has also set up a Web site to help family members find and contact relatives.

* You can also go online to organizations such as the Red Cross and MercyCorps to make a contribution to the disaster relief efforts.

Other Web sites accepting donations include:

-Haitian Health Foundation
-Hope for Haiti
-International Medical Corps
-Beyond Borders

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