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South Florida's Haitian Diaspora On 'Pins And Needles' After Major Earthquake

People walk past a home destroyed by the earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday, with the epicenter about 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of the capital of Port- au-Prince, the US Geological Survey said.
(AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)
The Associated Press
People walk past a home destroyed by the earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. A 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday, with the epicenter about 125 kilometers (78 miles) west of the capital of Port- au-Prince, the US Geological Survey said.

After the devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake that hit the Les Cayes area of Haiti Saturday, nearly 1,300 people are confirmed dead after the quake flattened buildings.

This latest crisis poses yet another challenge for the island nation, as it reels with the political vacuum left by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse last month.

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Boynton Beach City Commissioner Christina Romelus spoke with WLRN about her family and relief efforts starting to get underway in South Florida.

The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

WLRN: After the news of what's happened in Haiti this weekend, how are you doing? Do you have family on the island or friends? How are they doing?

ROMELUS: There really aren't too many words to explain how I'm feeling. After having two kids, that can kind of equivocate it to possibly feeling like I'm in labor again. It really is painful.

It's another gut punch to the Haitian community, to the Haitian people and the Haitian diaspora as a whole, because no matter where we are in the world, we still have family who are on the island. The news still affects us just as closely, even if we're not physically there.

But yes, I do have family that's still there. I have brothers and sisters who still live on the island, and I have family as well on my husband's side who lives in the area that was specifically affected.

And as of now, we do understand that we've lost three members of our family that we know of. And we're still waiting to hear more news because communication is is very bad at the moment.

Are you hearing anything of what people may need at the moment or what the situation is looking like on the ground?

A lot of people are outside of their homes, either one, because of damage, or two, just because they don't trust the soundness of the infrastructure. If anything happens, any aftershocks or anything, a lot of people are just on the streets right now.

From what I hear as well, it seems that the general hospital in Les Cayes is also damaged and affected. That means that medical care, which is, I think, the most crucial need right now, is unavailable.

And so individuals are having to leave the area to try to go get help in nearby hospitals that are most likely hours away. So for now, I think the most immediate need is providing medical care and sending medical supplies. That's what we we have been striving to [do] to support our sister city, which Boynton Beach is for Les Cayes.

How is the community here mobilizing and getting together?

Well, right now we are waiting for as much direction from the Haitian government as possible in order to provide the proper aid that they need and not to send other things perhaps that is not needed at the moment.

But being that South Florida is, I would say probably the first or second largest hub, probably after New York, of Haitian Americans and the Haitian diaspora living here, we are all on pins and needles waiting to figure out how to support Haiti in the areas affected.

In Boynton Beach, we've decided to start collecting medical supplies at our Fire Station One in downtown Boynton Beach. So anybody who's willing to provide or make those donations, that's where they can do that. And that's all we are accepting at the moment.

Of course, we all remember the 2010 earthquake, but recently the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, this earthquake — and now you've got tropical depression Grace coming to the island later [Monday.] What's bringing you hope right now?

I strongly believe that we'll be able to get up and get past this. My ask is that the world continues to support and give Haiti the two hands that it needs to kind of pick herself up off her feet and keep her going.

I was asked by a previous reporter, do you think there might be exhaustion from the outside world in terms of what's going on in Haiti? But the real question should be, do you think the people of Haiti are exhausted? Because if we're exhausted watching, how may they feel living it?

And so we have to have the ability to just stay strong and support them and be there as they need us and keep them going, because somehow, someway, they keep getting up and they keep going every day.

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
Alyssa Ramos is the multimedia producer for Morning Edition for WLRN. She produces regional stories for newscasts and manages digital content on WLRN.
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