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After frantic calls, tears of joy

Crisis center helps Haitians search, cope

By David Abel
Globe Staff / January 15, 2010

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In a sterile conference room in Dorchester, beside a glowing computer screen and with a phone on her shoulder, Andrea Janvier stared at the 10 phone numbers she had scrawled on a fraying piece of paper, a list she had reviewed repeatedly in the past 48 hours.

Grief counselors, city workers, and others stopped by to see whether she wanted water, help navigating through a confusing bureaucracy, or just a break to talk.

But Janvier, a 46-year-old dental assistant who moved to Boston from Haiti in 1989, wouldn’t stop dialing. The list included her two brothers, three sisters, and some of her 10 nieces and nephews, most of whom live near the epicenter of the earthquake that rippled so much horror across Haiti.

It seemed like an act of futility, until she finally got through.

“All I feel now is pain,’’ she said between calls and a stream of tears. “I call their numbers, again and again, but nothing. They live near the presidential palace, which is in ruins, and all I see are the images on TV - babies dead in the street, like fish washed up. It’s terrible, really awful.’’

Janvier was one of more than 50 Haitians who sought help from a crisis center city officials set up yesterday in an office building beside the Bayside Exposition Center.

Like many of the others, every time she dialed, she waited and waited. Most of the time, she heard nothing. Sometimes, there was a busy signal or a message on the phone: “Unable to route call.’’

“I have tried all day and all night - and nothing,’’ she said.

A few cubicles away, Nadege Dupont made similarly fruitless calls. She worked through a list of 13 numbers, which included many of her 16 brothers and sisters, several uncles and aunts, and many cousins, all of whom live in Port-au-Prince, the ravaged Haitian capital.

The 32-year-old, who moved to Hyde Park from Haiti six years ago, said that she has become so distraught she cannot eat or sleep.

“All I can do is cry,’’ she said. “Inside my heart, this is killing me.’’

She looked at the phone and shook her head. It seemed useless to keep calling, but she kept dialing.

“I need to know if they’re alive,’’ she said.

Beside her, Christine Edouard flipped through a large notebook filled with numbers.

She focused on eight numbers and sent e-mails, hoping for a response from her many cousins who live in the country of 9 million people.

“It’s devastating,’’ said Edouard, 50, a nurse who has lived in the Boston area most of her life.

“With all the country’s tragedy, this is the worst in more than 200 years. It’s like two steps forward and 100 steps backward,’’ she said.

In Mattapan, Jacques Dady Jean, president of the Mattapan Technology Center, used Facebook, text messages, and Internet calling to try to reach his relatives and hundreds of Haitians in New England writing to him for help.

He was receiving about 35 e-mails an hour.

He said he had succeeded in reaching five people in Haiti who have satellite communications. Through those contacts, he said, he learned that his father and five brothers and sisters survived.

“It was a huge relief,’’ he said.

As for Janvier, after countless busy signals and silence, one call finally went through, and she grew very excited as she heard the sharp beeps, signaling that the phone was ringing.

“I couldn’t believe it,’’ she said.

Then, she heard a voice at the other end. It was her niece, Rodline, and amazingly the connection was perfectly clear.

“She said, ‘I am OK - everyone’s OK,’ ’’ Janvier said, her voice cracking with joy as she relayed their conversation.

“When you say everyone’s OK, did you see my brothers and sisters?’’ Janvier asked.

“She said, ‘Yeah, I did. They’re OK,’ ’’ Janvier said. “I said, ‘How do you know?’ ’’

Her niece told her that her brother was with Janvier’s brothers and sisters, in their house in Port-au-Prince, before coming to her house in Delmas, about 15 miles east of the capital.

Her niece said their family was living on the lawn outside the presidential palace to avoid any harm from aftershocks.

They spoke for about 10 minutes, which seemed like an hour, or a lifetime.

“I feel so happy - so relieved,’’ Janvier said. “I haven’t spoken to them, but now I know they’re OK. I feel a lot less pressure.’’

She asked her niece to tell her brothers and sisters to send her a text message and said she would add minutes to their cellphone plans.

She is waiting to hear from them.

In the meantime, she called her mother and a sister who live in the States.

“There was a lot of tears - of joy,’’ she said.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti is in Haiti. (Globe File Photo) Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti is in Haiti.
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