7.0 earthquake devastates Haiti

Updated: January 14, 2010, 2:09 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

The devastating earthquake that hit Haiti on Tuesday has athletes of Haitian descent scrambling to locate friends and relatives still on the island.

There is no official death count, but President Rene Preval said he believes the death toll from the magnitude-7.0 earthquake is in the thousands.

Garçon
Garçon
Dalembert
Dalembert

The International Red Cross says a third of Haiti's 9 million people may need emergency aid, though again it could take days for a clear picture of the damage to emerge.

Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garçon, Philadelphia 76ers center Samuel Dalembert, Denver Broncos linebacker Elvis Dumervil, boxer Andre Berto, former NBA player Olden Polynice and Olympian Barbara Pierre are all working to get details about relatives in Haiti.

Haitian boxing promoter Jacques Deschamps is missing.

Dominican-born baseball player Miguel Tejada is sending supplies and the New York Yankees are donating $500,000 to rescue and relief efforts.

And, the University Tennessee is going to try to turn the loss of football coach Lane Kiffin into a positive. A Knoxville retailer will donate fans' Kiffin T-shirts to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti.

Garçon uses Twitter

Colts receiver Garçon said he was deeply concerned about the fate of "countless" relatives who live near the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

"Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. We still have not heard much from them and my mom is still trying to call them," Garçon said. "I'm keeping in contact with my mom. It's tough to get in touch with people down there because of the phone lines."

Garçon was born in Carmel, N.Y., and attended high school in Florida, but his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Haiti and most of his relatives still live there. Garçon says there are too many to count.

Last season, Garçon went back to the country for his grandmother's funeral, and he planned to return in April with his charitable organization, the Pierre Garçon Foundation.

But when the quake struck Tuesday, devastating one of the world's poorest nations, Garçon changed the plan. Instead of waiting until spring to help, Garçon jumped onto his Twitter account and started asking fans for help.

At one point, he tweeted: "We need the US military as soon as possible n haiti We need the 4 million Haitian that live out side of haiti to Act now, we need da world!"

As he prepares for Saturday night's playoff game against Baltimore, Garçon intends to use the NFL's stage as a pulpit to seek more assistance in the recovery effort.

"[Twitter] is how we got the pictures out, the word out, that's been really helpful," he said. "Spreading the word and helping others is really what it's all about and this is the best situation to do that now."

Dalembert unsure of next move

Sixers center Dalembert turns on the television to see the crumbled wreckage of what used to be the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods in which he grew up. The markets where he, his cousins and friends would buy food and ice cream. The government palace -- Haiti's White House, as he calls it -- that he always wanted to see inside. The crowded familiar streets, now full of injured people and children, waiting for help.

As he watches, he keeps dialing and e-mailing, trying to reach at least one of his almost 30 relatives to see if they survived the earthquake. His grandmother and mother in Orlando, Fla., can't get through either. At least his father, who lives about two miles from the center of the destruction, was able to send an e-mail to an aunt in Miami saying he was OK and the walls had cracked, but they were still standing.

"It's so shocking," Dalembert said. "I'm looking at the TV right now, you know, trying to think what could I have done if it were me in the situation? And there's nothing really I could have done."

The already narrow roads are blocked. The hospitals are destroyed. And any equipment, food or aid that could help will have to struggle to find a way into the rubble, he said. Even finding an open field in which to set up a makeshift aid station is almost impossible.

When Dalembert tries to explain Haiti to someone who has never been there, he asks them to think of the poorest place they've been -- somewhere they would never live -- and then multiply that by 100. Places where a piece of wood serves as a door on a house made of mud, "that's what we're talking about. People who don't know where their next food is coming from."

Families still travel by donkey and rely on medicine men when they fall ill, he said. It's an outdated lifestyle that is especially troubling in times of crisis, he said.

"You try to be as strong and tough as possible but deep inside you feel like you're burning, you're cooking inside. You're frustrated," he said. "...You try the best. And keep praying."

Dumervil asks for help

The depth of destruction in the wake of the earthquake that hit Haiti didn't really shock Broncos linebacker Dumervil. The odds were already staked against this impoverished country where running water, electricity and reliable transportation are already in short supply.

"The worse just got worse," said Dumervil, who was born in Miami but is of Haitian descent. "They don't have the resources or anything that Americans have or other countries have. The country is already in desperate [need of] help."

Think of how America -- a developed, resourceful country -- bounced back from a catastrophe on the scale of 9/11, he said. Now think of how a third-world country would face a disaster on a similar scale, he said. "It's not simple."

Dumervil has a brother, uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives who still live in Haiti. Those his mother has been able to reach describe a horrific scene.

"Everybody was in a panic mode. Just dead bodies, people trapped, people stuck in buildings or people who fell through the street cracks," he said.

Dumervil urges people to donate to help the relief effort by texting "YELE" to 501501 and $5 will automatically be charged to their wireless account. The money goes to hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean's Haitian charity, Yéle Haiti.

Berto 'devastated'

Welterweight titlist Berto, who is Haitian-American, also is very concerned about what is happening on the Caribbean island.

"I'm devastated by everything currently happening in Haiti," Berto said Wednesday. "As everybody knows, I have a lot of family members in Haiti and proudly represented Haiti in the 2004 Olympic Games. Like many other Haitian-Americans, my family and I are working to reach my loved ones. From what we have learned to this point, some of my family members are still missing and we have already been informed that members of my family have passed away in the earthquake."

Berto (25-0, 19 KOs) was born in the United States, but his parents were both born in Haiti before arriving in the United States as immigrants and settling in Winter Haven, Fla., where the 26-year-old still lives and trains.

Berto has been involved in Haitian charitable causes and has a foundation with offices in the Port-au-Prince.

"We are currently working on starting our own Haitian relief efforts, and I will be releasing additional information on how everyone can help very soon," Berto said. "I am asking everyone for their continued thoughts and prayers for the people in Haiti during this devastating time."

Polynice waits for call

Lester Polynice is 74 years old with a full head of jet-black hair that has never been dyed. He's strong and gregarious and seems much bigger than 6-foot-3. And when Polynice decided to move back to impoverished Haiti a few years ago, his son Olden didn't question it.

"That's home," Olden said. "That's where we were all born and raised."

On Wednesday afternoon, nearly 24 hours after a 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, Olden Polynice, a former NBA center, was sitting at home in Los Angeles with the TV on CNN and two computers flashing photos from his devastated homeland. Polynice has yet to hear from his dad, who has a house in Port-au-Prince. Every time the family calls Lester's cell phone, it automatically flips to his voice mail.

If his dad is OK, Polynice is sure he's out helping other people. But for now, all Polynice can do is scan photos in the hopes of seeing Lester's giant frame in the backdrop.

"That's the worst part," Polynice said. "That waiting. You're hoping everything's OK, but you just ... Ugh. It's the worst.

"We always see devastation in other places. Even like when Katrina hit, we were sensitive to it, but until it hits you directly, you can't really put yourself in somebody's shoes 'til you go through it."

The younger Polynice moved to the U.S. when he was 7, played college basketball at Virginia and spent 15 years in the NBA. He's rooted here. About five years ago, Lester felt the pull of his home country, built a house and decided to live half the year in the U.S. and half in Haiti.

Olden wishes his dad's plans hadn't taken him to Haiti on Jan. 12. And now all he can do is wait.

"Homeless people [in the U.S.] have it better than people in Haiti, to be honest," Polynice says. "There are a lot of makeshift homes and huts, and the buildings aren't up to standard. So when a natural disaster like this happens, of course there's going to be devastation.

"It's just a bad situation, but people make do because we're a country of people with pride. We take pride in surviving."

Deschamps unreachable

Carlos Oliveira, promoter and father to 19-year-old Brazilian middleweight boxing prospect, Miguel Oliveira, said Wednesday he had been trying to reach Haitian promoter Jacques Deschamps by telephone without success.

Deschamps, promoter of WBC light flyweight champ Edgar Sosa, of Mexico, has been spearheading an effort to bring the sport to Haiti.

Oliveira defeated Dominican Eduardo Mercedes on Dec. 18, 2009, on a fight card held in Petionville, Haiti. Carlos Oliveira said his son agreed to fight in Haiti to "give a Christmas present to the U.N. peacekeeping forces stationed in Haiti."

Early news reports say as many as 11 Brazilian soldiers died in the quake Tuesday.

"They were happy that Michael took the time to come there," said Carlos Oliveira of the Dec. 18 trip. "We gave away about 40 tickets and they all came and rooted for them. Before the fight, Michael also went to visit with them."

Tejada sends supplies

Baseball player Tejada is preparing a container van with emergency supplies that will be sent to Haiti.

"What happened in Haiti is a tragedy, something terrible, a sister country with which we share a common island," Tejada said to ESPNdeportes.com during a telephone interview from his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home.

"I've authorized my staff to prepare a shipment to help the needy people in Haiti as soon as possible," Tejada said. "The plan is to fill up a container van with items needed in an emergency. In these situations they would need water, canned food, medicine, powdered milk and kids clothes."

Tejada said the Haitian Consulate in Miami would be in charge of channeling the aid. Tejada also encouraged others to coordinate any aid through the consulate.

The 2002 American League MVP encouraged all his MLB colleagues, particularly Dominicans, to step up and help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.

"Everyone who can help should," Tejada said. "I heard that among the victims there are a lot of Dominicans who work in organizations and companies established in Haiti."

Tejada, 35, who averaged .313 and 199 hits in 2009 with the Houston Astros, is one of the top names who's still unemployed in baseball for next season.

"I'm not worried because I know I will have a job when the season starts in April," said Tejada. "At this moment, I'm more worried about my Haitian brothers."

Pierre worries for grandmother

When Olympian Pierre went to see her parents in Orlando for Christmas, she had hoped her grandmother, Seliecene, would finally be there.

Pierre, 22, is an NCAA champion sprinter at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, N.C., and a native of Port-au-Prince who represented Haiti in the 2008 Olympics. Her relatives have been immigrating to the United States over several decades, and one of the last to come was going to be her father's mother.

Pierre
Saint Augustine's College Barbara Pierre ran for Haiti in the 2008 Olympics.

Pierre had been helping her father file paperwork and cut through immigration red tape for several years in an attempt to bring her grandmother from Haiti -- and it looked like that might finally happen in December.

But the process got delayed. And now no one can reach Seliecene, who lived on the mountainside in Port-au-Prince in a house with a garden where she grew peppers and roses.

"I called my mom this morning and asked, 'Did you talk to grandma,' and she says, 'Barbara, I called, there's no connection. It doesn't even go through,'" Pierre said.

As she watches televised images of crumbled buildings and people crying in the streets, and hears reports of collapsed schools and hospitals, she refuses to think the worst.

"I don't want to be sad. I don't want to think negative," she said. "In my mind I want her to be OK, so that's exactly what I'm going to think."

Pierre came to the United States when she was about 5 years old, so most of her memories of Port-au-Prince are from visits where she stayed with her grandmother. She remembers begging her mom to buy the fried plantains that vendors sold on the bus from the airport and the syrupy iced treats sold at the local markets.

But the country changed as she got older. The roads started to crack and fall into disrepair. Stories of criminals kidnapping Americans and holding them for ransom prompted her mother to leave her at home in Orlando on subsequent trips to Haiti. Pierre's last visit was in 1999, when she was a bridesmaid in an aunt's wedding. Her father, a banker in Port-au-Prince, finally joined the family in Orlando in 2004.

When Pierre ran for Haiti in the 2008 Olympics, she got to know several other Haitians and developed an even stronger appreciation for her home country, despite having been gone so many years.

"Haitians, they're very hard-working people. They're going to get back on their feet. I just don't know how long," she said.

"Haiti is a third-world country. Look what happened to [people in] New Orleans. They're in the States, and look how long it took for them to get back up. It's going to take a long time. They don't really have the tools we have, the tools to dig up bricks and pull people out. They have to do that with their hands."

Pierre points out that the Haitian houses built on mountainsides are not sturdy structures. When they crumble, they can fall down the hill on top of one another.

But not her grandmother's house. No, she can't think about that.

Yankees pitch in

The Yankees announced Wednesday they would donate $500,000 in support of rescue and relief efforts following the earthquake in Haiti.

The catastrophic event has devastated an entire nation and will have far-reaching effects in the worldwide Haitian community. The Yankees hope their donation will inspire people throughout the United States to do everything they can to aid the people of Haiti in their time of need.

Vols' loss is Haiti's gain

HoundDogs, which sells Tennessee apparel, advertised a 20 percent discount for fans who brought shirts to the store for donation.

Manager Mitzi Sherrill says the owners, Dan and Tona Burks, were hoping to turn a "negative into a positive" when they heard fans talk of burning and ripping up shirts with the former Volunteers coach's name or face on them in the wake of Kiffin's abrupt resignation. He accepted the head-coaching job at Southern California.

Sherrill says the store had already been promised a large donation of shirts from a fan in Maryland.

Information from ESPN Enterprise Unit reporter Paula Lavigne, ESPN.com senior writer Elizabeth Merrill, ESPN.com boxing writer Dan Rafael, ESPNdeportes.com Enrique Rojas and The Associated Press was used in this report.