When Pablo Vega walked into the San Antonio Bakery in Valley Stream Sunday for Chilean pastries, owner Elizabeth Santana not only asked for his order but also whether his mother was all right after Saturday's massive earthquake in their native country.
"She is safe at this moment, thank God," said Vega, 48, a landscaper from Cedarhurst with relatives in and around Chile's capital, Santiago.
But neither Vega nor Santana, whose sister lives south of the quake's epicenter, had spoken to loved ones. Their information came from word-of-mouth.
With power and telephone lines still out in Chile yesterday, immigrants deprived of direct contact with loved ones turned to Facebook, satellite television and the sharing of information in places like the San Antonio Bakery, one of a handful of Chilean restaurants in the region.
Waitress Vanina Padularrosa said nearly every customer has a story to tell.
"I can see it in their faces," she said. "They all seem sad and worried."
As the death toll climbed past 700 Sunday, some still had no word from relatives.
Steve Gonzalez, 51, of Glen Cove, has not been able to reach his uncle, Jorge Gonzalez, or any other family in Santo Domingo, about three hours southwest of Santiago. "There's not much I can do," he said.
He sent a message to the Chilean Red Cross in the hope that he could connect with his family. He searches online for a glimpse of post-disaster Santo Domingo and waits by the phone for a call.
"I just hope and pray that he's safe and that everybody's safe and I pray that I hear from one of them or all of them soon," Steve Gonzalez said. "That's the only thing I can wish at this point."
The comforts of the home country at the San Antonio Bakery - dulce de leche, handmade empanadas, and Italian-style pastries - helped some take in the bad news. "You want to get close to your roots at a time like this," said Nicholas Pellegrini, 47, who ate at the San Antonio Sunday with his Chilean wife, Paula, 30, and son, Matias, 12.
Sipping a coffee, Fernando Acuña said he longed to hear the voices of his three sons.
A brother-in-law told Acuña, 52, of Valley Stream, that all three were safe. Still, he said, "It's really frustrating; I can't talk to them."
Rodrigo Muñoz and his wife, Margarita Berrios, of Long Beach, watched Chilean state television at San Antonio Bakery. They knew their family was safe, thanks to Facebook, but were distraught about the destruction in their home country.
"Chile is such a beautiful place and now there is so much pain," Berrios said in Spanish.
In New York
A similar scene played out in Manhattan at the Chilean restaurant Pomaire, where immigrants gathered Sunday.
"It's really hard," said Julio Tapia, 33, a waiter from Park Slope. "You see the city on the ground and it's not nice at all."
With Pervaiz Shallwani