On U.S. bases, word of loved ones in Haiti trickles in slowly
January 21, 2010
GINOWAN, Okinawa — All Marine Lance Cpl. Franz Rosemond knows is that his pregnant wife is alive and wandering the streets of Port-au-Prince.
“It’s driving me crazy,” the 27-year-old said Tuesday. “Just after I do PT in the morning I usually call my wife. But I got no answer [last] Wednesday. I called my sister and found out about the earthquake. I asked if Leila, my wife, was OK. But nobody knew.”
Rosemond, who was born in Haiti and is assigned to Camp Hansen, said he tried to work, but he cried most of the day as news came in about the disaster. Then his staff sergeant brought him word that other Haitians on Okinawa had set up a disaster outreach and support group at the Futenma USO.
He’s kept busy since volunteering full-time to help other Haitians get in touch with their family and friends more than 8,000 miles away.
He finally got a call from his wife on Sunday.
“It was only for 10 seconds,” Rosemond said. “She said our house collapsed and she’s sleeping in an open area next to dead people. She’s almost seven months pregnant and she has not eaten for several days.”
Marie Laurise Workman, relocation program manager for Army Community Service at Torii Station, organized the group soon after the news of the Haitian disaster broke. She said she’s been in contact with about 15 Haitian servicemembers on Okinawa.
“This is an ordeal for all of us,” said Workman, who was born in Haiti and raised in Canada.
The tragedy hit close to home when she received news that a cousin — “as close as a sister” — had been killed.
“At first, we heard from her brother just after the earthquake that she was OK and they made arrangements to meet up,” she said. “But no one heard from her again until two days later, when her brother found her car. It had been crushed when a three-story building fell on it.”
Workman’s cousin was dead. Inside the car, her 5-year-old son had apparently thrown himself on top of his 2-year old brother. The older son was dead, but the younger boy survived and is in critical condition, Workman said.
“You could have heard me howl in pain all over Futenma when I heard the news,” Workman said.
Since Saturday she’s been working at the Futenma USO, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., where AT&T and the USO have donated 100 telephone cards and volunteers have brought in their MagicJacks — a device that routes calls over the Internet — so Haitians on Okinawa could try to make contact with someone back home. Chaplains and other support personnel have also been available.
“Coming here has helped me cope,” said Sgt. Patrick Fleurestand, 32, also assigned to Camp Hansen. “It’s been hard to concentrate. I was crying for a few days.”
He has two brothers and a sister living in Port-au-Prince.
“Two days ago we finally got word,” he said. “Somebody called my mom in Orlando and said they’d seen them, they’re OK and have moved out of the city. But everything is gone.”
The three Haitians said they try not to watch the TV coverage of the disaster, but it’s hard to keep away. Rosemond said he scans the footage for familiar faces.
“I’ve seen my neighborhood — it’s destroyed,” he said. “But I haven’t seen anyone I know.”
Last weekend, Fleurestand and Rosemond raised $2,500 on Camp Hansen that they will donate to a Haitian relief fund. They are also awaiting word from their commands to see if they can be deployed to Haiti to act as translators and guides for the ongoing relief operation.
Anyone wishing to contact the support group or to make donations can contact Marie Laurise Workman at DSN 644-4385 or 080-3750-2944.