The telephone call lasted only a few minutes, but it was just enough to ease Winnedia Dallemand's mind.
"I kept trying and trying and trying and praying, 'God give me a chance to contact them,'" said Dallemand, who moved from Haiti in 2007.
Dallemand, 24, was desperate to talk to her aunt, cousin and several friends since Tuesday when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake devastated the island country. The American Red Cross estimates that 50,000 are dead and one-third of the country's 9 million people are in need of aid.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere saw everything from shantytowns to its nation's palace and cathedral collapse under the rage of the violent earthquake and the dozens of aftershocks that followed, some with magnitudes of 5.0. It took out phone and electrical lines, leaving many of the 5,000 Haitians in the Merrimack Valley with only the media to give them any news. Some were able to get through in the last day using cell phones, e-mail, Facebook pages, and text and instant messages.
Dallemand finally reached her cousin on the cell phone before 3 p.m. yesterday. Her family was alive, but their home was destroyed.
"They feel so down because they have nothing," Dallemand said. "There's no food, no water and everybody is living on the streets. They can't find a place to live and the streets don't smell good because a lot of people have died."
Their conversation ended when the telephone line went dead.
Tes Mercedat, 29, also was able to get word yesterday that his brother, sister-in-law and 6-month-old nephew are alive.
"It made me feel good, but what I'm most concerned about is what is going to happen next, what can we do?" said Mercedat, who moved to Massachusetts from Haiti in 1993.
Mercedat, manager of The Savings Bank in Methuen, has offered the bank as a drop-off for water, canned foods, medicine and cleaning supplies to send to Haiti.
He took the day off yesterday to contact family members still living in the country.
"I was watching the news on TV, going online and Facebook and calling relatives to see if anyone knew anything," said Mercedat, who left Haiti at age 13.
"Home is home, no matter when you left, it still hits you," he said.
His family lived one mile away from the presidential palace, which was destroyed by the disaster.
"I couldn't watch because I kept thinking, 'That could have been me,'" he said. "The only thing I kept asking myself was, 'Why Haiti? God you picked the worst country.'"
Cousin lives, but children in her nursery school unaccounted for
Edna Chery, another Haitian immigrant who owns Needlynn's Bridal and Tuxedo Shop in Methuen, said she has been receiving text messages from relatives saying, "I'm OK."
Her cousin's house in Canape Vert, from where she ran the nursery school, Titite Garderie, for 20 years, collapsed. Chery didn't know how many people were inside the building, but she learned her cousin made it out. Others in the school weren't as lucky.
"All the kids are still inside," she said. "All the nurse assistants ... still buried inside. So they don't know if they're alive or not."
Chery's cousin was on her bed when the earthquake began, and she somehow ended up "sitting on the mattress in the street, not knowing how she was outside" afterward, Chery said.
Chery also lost a friend, Alix Balmir, a retired Haitian ambassador to Argentina and other Latin American countries, who was in Petionville.
"He got his leg cut and they didn't have time. He lost so much blood and he died," Chery said.
Chery was devastated as she learned the extent of the tragedy.
"It's just the beginning," she said. "I think a lot of people didn't make it."
Relieved mom is alive, but still working to talk to her
Paul "Alex" Louis of Lawrence was relieved when he got a return e-mail from a friend in Haiti yesterday.
Not only was his friend OK, but he checked on Louis' mother, Lea, 81, and his sister, Marie, 41, who survived the earthquake despite living right outside Port-au-Prince, the epicenter of the earthquake.
"I haven't been able to talk to them but I'm so glad someone was able to check on them," said Louis, a certified nurse's assistant at MI Nursing/Restorative Center in Lawrence.
Now Louis, who immigrated to the United States 20 years ago, is trying to contact workers at Complexe Orquide, an elementary school in the Port-au-Prince area. He sends money home whenever he can to help children at the elementary school, where his sister is a teacher.
Zion College's mostly Haitian students pray and help
Here in the Merrimack Valley, people are praying and vigils have been set up. At Zion Bible College in Haverhill, most of its 300 students are either from Haiti or have roots in the Caribbean country. Students and faculty are planning to send its Convoy of Hope to Haiti. The convoy is a relief team provided by the Assemblies of God, the denomination with which Zion is affiliated. Zion's president, Charles Crabtree, said the Convoy of Hope is "already moving toward Haiti."
At the college's morning chapel service yesterday, students, teachers and administrators watched a video appeal for help from Dr. George Wood, superintendent of the Assemblies of God. The message went out to the 12,300 congregations in the United States.
Crabtree led the college community in fervent prayer for Haiti, during which time, students put their arms around their Haitian classmates.
Still waiting to hear
Jerry August, 23, of Methuen has family in Haiti, including a cousin who is a doctor and was building a clinic in Port-au-Prince, which was destroyed. Two other cousins died in the disaster, and he does not know the whereabouts of the rest of his family.
August is a 2006 graduate of Methuen High School who was born in the United States and lived in Haiti for a couple of months. "I prayed to God and I said, 'If you could send me a light ... to see if there's anything I could do to help Haiti," he said.
Ann Marie Krusell, chairwoman of the Methuen High English department, called him about a fundraiser to help the victims.
Krusell said the school hopes to raise enough money to rebuild the clinic.
August, who writes and sings rap music, recorded a song about the earthquake called "Changed." Krusell said the song will be played during the fundraisers.
"It's just to uplift the people," August said. "I made the song for people to remember Haiti as a good place, as an island with clear waters; how it's just fun to be out there playing soccer with the kids."
August's best friend, Claudel Frederique, 23, of Methuen has several relatives in Haiti and has been unable to get through to them since the disaster.
"The toughest thing is not knowing whether they're alive or not," said Frederique, a 2004 Methuen High graduate.
Frederique's father was on the phone with someone who was in Haiti when the earthquake struck. The elder Frederique heard a noise in the background before the connection was cut off.
'Take a lifetime to repair'
Although Israel Pierre's relatives live in the United States, he and his wife still are heartbroken.
"I haven't been able to sleep since it happened," said Ester Pierre of Lawrence. "All I can think of, 'It could happen to us.'"
Pierre is from the Dominican Republic and her husband is Haitian.
Pierre said she cringes as she watches the images on television. "It's a nightmare that has come true," Ester Pierre said.
The overall scope of the earthquake damage amazes Louis.
"It might take a lifetime to repair, from what I see," Louis said.
Staff writers J.J. Huggins, Paul Tennant and Jill Harmacinski contributed to this story.
Helping those in Haiti
Prayer vigils: Today at Lawrence City Hall, 200 Common St.; Sunday at 7 p.m. at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, 471 Main St., Haverhill, 978-372-2843.
Fundraiser: Methuen High School students and staff members will collect money for the Red Cross tonight at 6 during the junior varsity and varsity basketball games at the school. Students will continue collecting money next Thursday and Friday during school hours.
Cash donations: Any Sovereign Bank will accept checks in care of Pro Haiti Relief Fund Committee; The Savings Bank, 17 Burnham Road, Methuen; Checks for Convoy of Hope, in care of Zion Bible College, 320 S. Main St., Bradford, MA 01835. Write Haiti Disaster Relief on memo line.