New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has been traveling to Haiti since 1994, the latest trip made last week, leading a group of NYPD officials assessing the country's handling of kidnappings.
Kelly returned on Saturday from his three-day journey. He felt good about progress he saw in Haiti's infrastructure and law enforcement.
"I saw roads that never existed before; I saw improvements in the police," Kelly said.
But like many New Yorkers, the city's top cop was stunned by the devastating earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti's road and communication system late Tuesday. Hundreds of thousands are feared dead.
Among those believed killed was Hedi Annabi, the head of the UN Mission, whom Kelly had dinner with on Thursday.
"It is sobering," a pensive Kelly, 68, said Wednesday during an interview after a Flatbush news conference with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials. "I was fortunate to get out."
Kelly made his first trip to Haiti in 1994 under the Clinton administration to help the country set up a police force. Over the years, he said he has witnessed what for the Haitians was steady progress.
"Things have improved in Haiti, but you have to kind of know where they started to see that improvement," observed Kelly.
Though law and order in Haiti is a concern now, Kelly thinks the local populace can control things.
"I think the people themselves will maintain order," said Kelly. "There is a sense of community there. A lot of the justice, quite frankly - rightly or wrongly - is carried out by the community. So I don't see a threat of [major] disorder."
His face creased with a smile as Kelly described the addictive allure Haiti seems to have for many Americans.
"I think the Haitian people are very inspirational. They live in such squalor. . . . They are able to survive," Kelly said.
Haitians like Americans, observed Kelly, adding that now it is only the United States that can give that poor country its best shot for help in this time of calamity.
>> VIDEOS: Latest videos from Haiti and on LI
HOW TO HELP
* 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.
Other Web sites accepting donations include: