Bay Area Haitian families struggle to reach loved ones in Haiti after catastrophic quake

Families in the Bay Area woke up to the news that a 7.2 magnitude earthquake had done catastrophic damage in Haiti on Saturday. Haitian immigrants living in the Bay Area spent hours trying to reach loved ones who live in Haiti.

"My heart just, just broke. Cut into pieces" Jacqueline Oriscar Lee, a Novato resident who was born and raised in Haiti, said. She learned later on Saturday that her siblings and large extended family living in Port au Prince were alright.

Lee and her husband Randall Lee co-run the Bay Area nonprofit, Haiti on the Rise, which supports Haitians hit hard by the 7.0 earthquake from 2010. The organization provides resources for rebuilding, healthcare, education, and pastoral endeavors.

"Knowing what we've been through in 2010, it was so hard. I lost a lot of friends, a lot of families. All of my network was basically destroyed," Jacqueline Lee said. 

The news that Saturday's earthquake was of even greater magnitude than the one in 2010 was unimaginable.

"I was like, oh my gosh, now we have to start all over again," Lee said.

Walter Riley, an Oakland resident and the founder and chair of Haiti Emergency Relief Fund survived the 2010 earthquake. He said in the days that followed it, he treated people's wounds, and even tried to save people he saw stuck in the rubble.

"There are people who died on the rubble, who just couldn't get out," Riley said.

Riley worries what damage Tropical Storm Grace, making its way toward Haiti, will do.

"You could imagine water and debris and big boulders and people trapped.," Riley said. "The horror of it all."

Joanne Eloi in Sonoma County was born in Haiti. She said on top of the now-hampered rebuilding efforts from the 2010 earthquake and 2016's hurricane Matthew, Haiti was already struggling with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July.

"There's just so much going on, it's just like adding more weight to a house of cards. How much more weight can it hold at this point before it comes crumbling down?" Eloi said.

She and her father, Pastor Edner Eloi of the Haitian Seventh Day Adventist Church in Novato, plan to hold virtual conferences on Sunday for church members to come together and pray.

"The Haitian people, we're a very resilient people, and no matter what is thrown at us, that's the time that we band together even stronger so that we can overcome," Joanne Eloi said.