63° Good Evening
63° Good Evening
Long Island

Westbury man desperately awaits word on family in Haiti


The call came at 2:10 p.m.

Lionel Sannon, tense from nearly two days of waiting for word about relatives from Haiti, fumbled for the phone in the living room of his Westbury home, then pulled it to his ear.

On the line, the voice of his wife's aunt, calling from Cambria Heights.

Sannon's eyes welled with tears. His mouth twitched.

"What? . . .

"Twenty-four died together?

"Uh? . . . Jesus Christ. . . . Oh God . . . the whole family wiped out . . . 24 people."

In the chaos of the devastation and lack of solid information, it was impossible to know what was true. Across Long Island Thursday, people with loved ones in Haiti, anxious for word that they had survived the earthquake, tried desperately to reach family members. Phone lines were down, cell phones inoperable. The news was horrific, the images numbing.

From right after the earthquake, Sannon tried unsuccessfully to reach his wife, Jocelyne, where she was staying with relatives near Port-au-Prince. Now a nurse manager at Nassau University Medical Center, Sannon, 55, had left Haiti in 1969 to find a better life in the United States. The couple moved to Westbury in 1986 and raised a son.

But they never forgot Haiti, whose soulful spirit but corruption-riddled politics and grinding poverty has long made life extraordinarily harsh. Their lives were better on Long Island, but they missed their homeland.

As a reporter sat with Sannon, the phone rang. An in-law's house had collapsed onto two dozen relatives and neighbors in Leogane, where his wife grew up just outside Port-au-Prince.

Hours later, after the phone call, he would learn that six people had been pulled alive from the rubble. There was no word of the rest - and no way to find out if his relatives were among those pulled free.

This came after two wrenching days of being unable to reach his wife, a partly paralyzed stroke victim who went to Haiti early last month to visit a favorite aunt in the same town.

A neighbor with a working phone there had passed along word that Jocelyne had survived the quake. There was at least that.

But, he learned, she had been struck by falling cinder blocks, which left her with a broken leg and a possible head injury.

With hospital facilities nonexistent and her 30-day supply of medicine for diabetes and high blood pressure depleted, Sannon worried for her safety.

"I was against her going there because Haiti was a disaster before the disaster," he said. "But she was lonely just sitting around the house because of her paralysis, not having anything to do, not even able to drive her new car. So to make her happy, I agreed to let her go."

He is now haunted by questions. Does she have clean drinking water to gird her against the tropical heat? Can she make it without medical care? With tens of thousands dead and dying around her, are there others who can see to her survival?

"What makes it worse is the unknown factor, not knowing how badly she is hurt, not knowing if she is crying," he said.

Then, as he learned of the collapse of the building where his relatives lived, the agony only worsened.

"I never knew it could be this bad," Sannon said, sitting in his living room, a cell phone in one hand, a land line in another. "Instead of her coming back home happy, I don't know if she will come back at all."

>>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: Upload photos of loved ones missing in Haiti | 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.

The FBI warned Internet users to be wary of e-mail messages seeking donations in the aftermath of the quake. People who want to send money or assistance should contribute to known organizations and should be careful not to respond to unsolicited e-mails, officials said.


Other Web sites accepting donations include:

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

Latest Long Island News