PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI - JANUARY 12: A man tries to talk on a cell phone on January 12, 2010 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. A 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti today, followed by at least a dozen aftershocks, causing widespread devastation in the capital of Port-au-Prince. (Photo by Frederic Dupoux/Getty Images)
These are tense times for members of the Haitian community as they await word of loved ones in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas.
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the island Tuesday evening. There are reports of widespread damage and casualties. Because telephone lines are down, many in this country are having trouble contacting relatives in the damage areas.
"We are trying to call everywhere," he said. "Trying to call everyone we know to see where she's at. We don't know ... I didn't sleep all night. I'm waiting to find if she's OK."
A Haitian family that lives in Hyattsville, Md., said they feel lucky to be alive. Joel Price and his daughter left Haiti just a few days before the earthquake. His older sister and her husband left Monday.
The family is desperately trying to find out what has happened to the family they were visiting. They've received word that one of their brothers, a priest in Port-au-Prince for 10 years, is OK. But they are waiting to hear on the condition of many others.
Students at Howard University have taken to the Internet to raise money for the relief effort. Meanwhile, in the school's chapel, Haitian students and others joined together for a vigil.
"I lost two friends this morning, and I just thought this was a whole nightmare but I got up and this is real," said Roberte Exantus, the president of Howard's Haitian Student Association. "I just spoke to my dad two days ago and now I can't find him."
Her father worked in Port-au-Prince just miles from the epicenter. She has not been able to reach her family.
"When I saw that (the National Palace) collapsed, all I could think about was, 'My house cannot be standing,'" she said.
Two employees of D.C.-based think tank the Haiti Democracy Project have not been heard from since the quake, WAMU 88.5 FM reported.
James Murrell is the project's director. He says he hasn't been able to contact a board member and an electoral observer, both who were in Port au Prince when the massive earthquake struck.
"We have some of our contacts of friends who live close to the border with the Dominican Republic. I'm pretty sure telephones over there are still working. Some of those who live by the border have Dominican phones as well," says Murrell. "I think I might be able to get through to them later today."
Ten students from George Mason University who were on a mission trip to Haiti were reported to be safe and sound, according to the Associated Press. The student group, affiliated with McLean Bible Church, left for Haiti on Saturday to build latrine shelters as well as run Bible classes for Haitian children.
Michael McGeough of Fairfax, whose daughter Diana is on the trip, said they received word via text message about three hours after the quake that the group was OK. The group has food and water and is sleeping outdoors at a mission about 40 miles west of Port-au-Prince as a precaution against aftershocks, McGeouth said. They are awaiting word on when authorities will be able to evacuate them.
The church said it anticipates the students will return to the United States when the airport in Port-au-Prince reopens to the public.
Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services has a staff of about 300 in Haiti, including 120 in Port-au-Prince, spokesman John Rivera said. The CRS office in Port-au-Prince survived Tuesday's earthquake and all international staff had been located, Rivera said. However, the relief organization was still trying to account for its Haitian employees, who comprise the majority of CRS's work force.
For a list of ways to help the people of Haiti, click here.
For complete coverage of the earthquake and aftermath, click here.