By Brian Messenger
LAWRENCE — More than 100 people packed the City Hall lobby yesterday to pray, cry and coordinate relief efforts for the victims of Haiti's earthquake disaster.
Religious and political leaders offered a message of hope to residents, many of whom are looking to help. Others continue their struggle to contact relatives in the impoverished Caribbean nation.
"I spoke with someone yesterday who feared he lost his whole family," said an emotional Mayor William Lantigua, wiping his eyes. "Rest assured, we will do all we can do."
Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
Governments and government agencies have pledged about $400 million worth of aid, including $100 million from the United States.
From Europe, Asia and the Americas, more than 20 governments, the U.N. and private aid groups were sending planeloads of high-energy biscuits and other food, tons of water, tents, blankets, water-purification gear, heavy equipment for removing debris, helicopters and other transport. Hundreds of search-and-rescue, medical and other specialists also headed to Haiti yesterday.
With a red and blue Haitian flag hanging behind him on the wall inside Lawrence City Hall, Lantigua told those who gathered yesterday how they too could do their part.
Speaking in both English and Spanish, Lantigua said Haitians need food, water and medical supplies above all else.
He said the city is working closely with Lawrence General and Holy Family hospitals, the Greater Lawrence Community Health Center and other non-profit agencies to provide relief.
Residents were asked to drop off donations at the first floor of City Hall or at the General Donovan School, 50 Cross St., where volunteers will be waiting.
A Sovereign Bank account titled El Comite Pro-Ayuda a Haiti has also been set up for monetary donations.
And in conjunction with similar efforts by the State Department, Lantigua said residents with relatives in Haiti can contact the mayor's office for assistance with reaching them.
On Sunday, 18 churches in the city will take a collection to assist Haiti, said Juan Melo, pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy on East Haverhill Street.
"We're working in collaboration," he said.
Roads that are blocked or in poor condition, airport congestion and other logistical obstacles have slowed the aid delivery in Haiti thus far.
Looters roamed downtown streets, among them small bands of young men and boys with machetes.
But by yesterday, hundreds of U.S. troops had touched down and were handing out food, water and medical supplies to stricken survivors.
With more help on the way, in the coming days the U.S. presence is expected to rise to 8,000 troops.
The Red Cross estimates 45,000 to 50,000 people were killed in the disaster, while up to half of the buildings in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, and other hard-hit areas were damaged or destroyed, according to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"Let's continue hoping and praying so more people will be found alive," Lantigua said yesterday. "They're going to need our help for a long, long time. Let's not let this moment pass."
One of the more emotional speeches yesterday at City Hall was given by Victor Jarvis, pastor of the Ebenezer Christian Church on Haverhill Street.
"They are human beings," said Jarvis before the meeting began. "They are in need. People of God are not of color, race, social conditions. They are in need."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
More ways to help Haiti
Two local restaurants are donating part of their proceeds this weekend to Haitian relief efforts.
On Sunday, owners of the Common Man Family of Restaurants' 15 locations in New Hampshire will donate half of each food bill to the American Red Cross. There is a Common Man restaurant in Windham and Concord and The Airport Diner in Manchester.
Burton's Grill of New England will donate 15 percent of its sales on Monday to the William J. Clinton Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. Burton's has restaurants in North Andover, Boston, Hingham and South Windsor, Conn.