Southern New Hampshire residents who traveled to Haiti before the earthquake hit said it's a country that can ill afford such a disaster.
When the Rev. Fred Cheney visited Haiti two years ago, the streets were a mess, there was almost no mail service, and communication was difficult.
"Normally, it's chaos," he said yesterday. "Now, I can't imagine."
Like many in the region who have visited Haiti, Cheney wonders how the already suffering country will cope with a massive earthquake that may have killed thousands of people and has leveled hospitals.
"You just think a country that's borne so much difficulty wouldn't have to go through this now, too," he said.
Mission groups and those who have done humanitarian work in Haiti said yesterday that little information had come out of the country and it was not yet clear what supplies would be needed. Those with family or friends in the country anxiously awaited word. At the Statehouse in Concord, House members began their session with a moment of silence for the earthquake's victims. Rep. Jean Jeudy, D-Manchester, grew up in Haiti.
The American Red Cross has pledged an initial $200,000 to assist communities affected by the earthquake. Locally, Ian Dyer, New Hampshire regional director of emergency services for the Red Cross, said chapters in the state have not yet been asked to call up disaster volunteers to go to Haiti.
Cheney, the senior pastor at Central Congregational Church in Derry, visited Haiti two years ago on a mission with a Massachusetts-based Christian nonprofit group, Servants for Haiti. The group supports a church, feeding station, orphanage and school in Haiti.
Cheney said he helped build the school when he visited. He said the buildings were constructed by hand with brick and mortar. The building survived the earthquake.
"The last time I was there, I said I hope there's never an earthquake, because we're not working with reinforced steel," he said. "How that survived a 7.0 (earthquake) I do not know."
Cheney said he and other members of the church wanted to help Haiti as a way of ministering their faith and meeting what he called a "real human need."
"I met a lot of street kids, kids 15, 16, 17 years old who basically want three things in life," he said. "They want food. They want clothing. And they want an education. And none of those are readily available."
Judy Evans of Londonderry led Cheney's trip to Haiti and was scheduled to lead another next month, but she may go in the next few weeks instead. She said responding to a crisis in Haiti would require people who have been there before.
"It has to be the right kind of people that are prepared to go for this," she said. "You never know what you're going to run into in Haiti on a good day."
It can be difficult to bring supplies into Haiti, and it is not clear yet what Haitians will need, so Evans recommended donating money.
She said that while she knew those at the orphanage and school the group works with are safe, the group has other friends and contacts there they have not been able to reach.
"We have a lot of loved ones that we truly love down there," she said. "We don't know about all the other people that we're connected to, how they're doing."
Bonnie Phaup, a registered nurse from Auburn who traveled to Haiti with Servants for Haiti, said medical care in the country is extremely limited. She recalled changing a pillowcase at work yesterday and dropping the fresh one on the floor. She put it right in the dirty laundry and grabbed a new one, she said.
"They don't even have pillows. They don't have pillowcases," she said. "They lie on the floor."
She said the Haitian people are the most kind and gracious she had ever met.
"I think they feel like a forgotten nation sometimes," she said.
Ray and Lauretta Seabeck of Gilford have been traveling to Haiti on humanitarian missions for 31 years. They work there with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity.
"We were there in December and we dealt with children dying of starvation every day," Ray Seabeck said. "And I still am having nightmares over that."
He said following the earthquake, trying to follow Mother Teresa's example might feel overwhelming. Mother Teresa said to help the person in front of you as if he or she were Christ, and then move on to the next if you have time.
"It's not just one person, it's thousands at this point," he said.
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To become a Red Cross disaster volunteer, contact the NH regional office at 1-800-464-6692. Donations can be sent to the International Response Fund at P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013 or made by phone at 1-800-REDCROSS, or online at www.redcross.org.
To donate to Servants for Haiti, send a check to P.O. Box 1214, Westford, MA 01886. Put "relief" in the memo of any checks.