Alcenat Honorat and Eden Jean-Jacques have spent the past two days waiting for word from friends and relatives in Haiti after a magnitude-7 earthquake struck their homeland Tuesday, the worst earthquake in that country in 200 years.
They’re part of a small circle of people from the Caribbean country who now live in San Luis Obispo County.
Honorat, 26, is an engineering student at Cal Poly; Jean-Jacques, his 23-year-old girlfriend, joined Honorat just three weeks ago.
Although they met in the town of Gonaives, a city of more than 100,000 people 90 miles north of the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, Jean-Jacques is worried about family in the capital. “I have three little sisters there and two uncles (in Port-au-Prince),” she said. “I have not been able to reach them. That’s why I am so worried.”
Honorat has heard from a third party that his sisters left their house during the earthquake and are alive. And he said there also seems to be word that Gonaives was not as badly hit as Port-au-Prince.
“Yesterday, I kept calling for about six hours,” he said of his attempts to reach family. “There was no connection.
“Some friends in Haiti are posting information on Facebook. We have to guess at the rest by the little information we have.”
Honorat decided to attend Cal Poly after befriending a San Luis Obispo County woman in the U.S. Army in Haiti. He had operated as a translator for the Army, and he is fluent in French, French Creole and English.
If any local groups provide humanitarian aid in Haiti, Honorat hopes he will be invited on the trip to serve as an interpreter.
“I lived 22 years of my 26 in Haiti,” he said. “My whole family and so many friends are there.”
The San Luis Obispo County chapter of the American Red Cross reports that there have been many local donations aimed at alleviating some of the consequences of the disaster.
“The minute I walked in the door this morning, there was a man with a $100 bill in his hand,” said Joy Miller, communications manager for the local chapter. “Donations are really the best way to help at this point. The Red Cross is working closely with the Haitian Red Cross.”
Honorat knows a small group of Haitians he has met while living in the county. Among them is Patrice Lemarque, who lives in Morro Bay. The two met at the San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport and suspected that they came from the same country, Lemarque said.
Lemarque was reached Wednesday in Arizona while traveling as an information technology specialist.
Lemarque said Haiti is still recovering from the three hurricanes and a tropical storm that hammered the nation in 2008.
Lemarque lived in Port-au-Prince, and his father is still there. He has learned secondhand from family based in Florida that his family seems to have survived.
“I have not heard much,” the Cal Poly alumnus said. “I have heard that the university was destroyed.”
Jean-Jacques and Lemarque both said their families lived in a more suburban portion of Port-au-Prince, where there are fewer multistory buildings of the sort shown in ruins in news photos. That gives Jean-Jacques hope, she said.
In explaining the white dust seen in so many photos of the destruction, Honorat said it has to be the white chalky sand from the hills that is used in the country’s often unstable construction.
“This is the problem,” he said. “There is a lack of construction codes; anybody can build a house as long as they have sand and gravel.”