The television news images of this sorrow-soaked capital city of Port-au-Prince, where my in-law cousins reside, were almost too much to bear. Most of the capital has been flattened like a pancake. Even Haitian President Rene Preval said on CNN, “I’m not quite sure where I will sleep tonight,” after his palace was destroyed.

Water and electricity have collapsed. Bodies are lining the streets. One image of live children lying among dead counterparts was especially troubling for this reporter, who covered the 1995 Haitian parliamentary elections for Clear Channel Broadcasting and Radio Kiskeya while simultaneously working as a United Nations election monitor. One of the areas I visited was Carrefour, the apparent epicenter of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that’s killed tens of thousands and displaced at least a million people. No word yet from my in-laws, the Bourelly-LaRoche family.

I am not alone. I called Florence Vincent on North Austin Boulevard, the mother of six, including former Miss America Marjorie Vincent and her younger sister, Carla. “My own daughters are very, very troubled. They’ve been Tweeting for 24 hours seeking information,” Florence said. “This is really hard for our family. I can’t sleep. My niece, Mary Jo Brady, and her daughter, Isabel, are missing from their Petionville home in the capital.”

Haitian art expert and Ridge Art Gallery owner Laurie Beasley was out of the country when I called for comment. Her French and Creole are much, much better than mine. So are her Haitian connections. She e-mailed me from India to say that she would help Haitians in this time of need.

When I called nurse practitioner Michelle Darang-Coleman, she relayed a similar message. “I was up all night,” she said. “This is our ancestral home. Even though we don’t have immediate family, just cousins-in-law in the Petionville area that we have not heard from, Haiti is still home. It’s a place you can never turn your back on.” Michelle explained that she came to the United States at age 15. And even though she doesn’t remember it, her mom recalled a 3.0 magnitude earthquake in the ’60s.

In a telephone interview from her Oak Park home, Michelle said, “I do have skills as a nurse practitioner that may be useful. If Doctors Without Borders called me, I would go to Haiti for a month. People need health providers. I think I speak for all of us when I look at the poverty, humiliation and suffering that has gone on for two centuries of independence; I can say that we still care. We love to help each other. That’s what makes us special. We may not have much, but we give what we have.”

Stan West, an Oak Parker for 16 years, is a former foreign correspondent for Pacific News Service. He is an author, educator, filmmaker and human rights activist. But his favorite job, he says, is being a parent.

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