More than 1500 miles from the epicenter of the Haitian quake, its effects rippled through Boston's teeming Haitian community
By CHRIS FARAONE  |  January 20, 2010

HOLD ON: At a vigil on Monday in Somerville, Haitian Coalition Executive Director Franklin Dalembert and the Mission Church True Light Choir helped those in attendance find some solace, if only temporary, in the days following the earthquake.

Haiti earthquake resource guide.

Covering a tragedy: How does a small local paper cover the world's biggest story? By Adam Reilly.

Disaster, then détente: Politically speaking, Hurricane Katrina this was not. By David S. Bernstein.

Quake response: Boston organization fighting good fight in Haiti. By Jeff Inglis.

From the second that the Richter scale registered at 7.0 in Haiti, a desperate grief rippled through Hyde Park, Dorchester, and other corners of this region, which is home to the third-largest Haitian population in America. Barber shops, offices, and island restaurants from Morton Street to Union Square buzzed with horror. Unless they were giving interviews themselves, Haitian-Americans spent every minute scanning broadcasts for news of surviving friends and family.

In service to that community (various reports have the state's Haitian count at between 80,000 and 100,000, and Greater Boston's at between 40,000 and 60,000), organizers and elected representatives did more than just issue press-release condolences. Working closely with Haitian community leaders, who, within 24 hours had established the centralized Haitian-American Earthquake Relief Task Force, Mayor Tom Menino arranged a Haitian Family Relief fund with Bank of Americato solicit donations. Meanwhile, Governor Deval Patrick provided the federal government with a roster of available disaster-tested aid workers.

Boston's Haitian ties run far beyond those with Caribbean roots, and with the bad news came reports that 200 workers from the North Station–based Oxfam were on the ground during the madness, with many losing housing. But through it all, the local reaction so far has been anything but a fractioned free-for-all. Much like the swift federal response — an aid offensive so apparently remarkable that right-wingers have taken to criticizing its immediacy (see "Disaster, Then Détente," page 10) — Boston-based relief efforts were both organized and exceptional.

From Mass General physicians who dispatched overseas to civilians who manned call centers in 12-hour shifts, the neighborly strength that emerged throughout the Hub stands in sharp contrast with the climate of bickering in the political Zeitgeist. Reflecting on the past week, here are four vignettes that illustrate the earthquake's impact here, more than 1500 miles away from its Port-au-Prince epicenter.

The young woman at the counter asks this reporter, "Did you know this is a Haitian restaurant?" Several white faces have been stopping by La Difference on Blue Hill Avenue since fault lines ruptured beneath Port-au-Prince yesterday, but the others have been bringing microphones, makeup mirrors, and heavy equipment in tow. "You're here to eat?" the hostess asks. "You can sit wherever you like, then."

Just one other table is occupied — by two Haitian-American women waiting for lunch with their eyes stuck on a big screen fixed above the kitchen door. NECN announces that the "death toll is expected to go into the tens of thousands"; two young men at the counter see the report and instinctively flip open their cell phones. They've been dialing friends in Haiti for more than 12 hours, and the television spurs them to try again. No luck.

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