More than 50 hours after a massive earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, a New Jersey woman was rescued from beneath the rubble of a hotel -- giving hope to thousands of New Yorkers with missing loved ones in the Caribbean country.
"Thank you for saving my life," Sarla Chand said after rescuers pulled the 65-year-old Teaneck woman from the wreckage of the Hotel Montana. Exhausted and battered, but grateful, Chand sat on the ground as her saviors checked her vital signs to make sure she was stable.
Search and rescue teams worked through all hours of the night determined to pull more survivors from the rubble and help them to hospitals already overflowing with victims.
Hundreds of U.S. troops touched town in the quake-shattered region overnight and were soon dispensing food and water to survivors as relief groups struggled amid concerns about unrest brewing in the aftermath of the disaster.
President Barack Obama has pledged $100 million to help the Caribbean country, and assured stricken residents that one of the largest relief efforts in United States' history is on the way.
"This investment will grow over the coming year, as we embark on the long-term recovery from this unimaginable tragedy," Obama said. "To the people of Haiti, we say clearly and with conviction: you will not be forsaken, you will not be forgotten. In this, your hour of greatest need, America stands with you, the world stands with you."
The Red Cross has estimated that the death toll will likely reach 50,000 and scores of individuals remain unaccounted for.
In Brooklyn, Yvette St. Louis waits desperately for word from her brother, two sisters and seven other family members who went to Haiti to bury her mother. The Flatbush mother of three was supposed to fly to Haiti the day after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated the impoverished country. Her flight was canceled – and she has yet to hear from her 10 relatives who had already arrived.
"All of them are missing," the woman, crippled by grief and fear, told the Daily News. "No communication, nothing. I need to go down there. I need to look for bodies now."
For days, every time the phone in her Floral Park home rang, Betty Auguste jumped, hoping, she said, "for good news."
Finally, the good news came Thursday. She got a call from her brother, saying that he was safe; and later, a message from a friend, assuring Auguste that her sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nephew are all safe.
"It was as if the weight of the world was off my shoulder," the U-N worker from Floral Park said. "It was a relief."
The relatives and friends of members of a New Jersey church group who were in Haiti on a humanitarian mission when the earthquake struck the island nation this week also can breathe easier as the group returned home, thankful to have survived the horrors that now remain imprinted forever on their minds and hearts.
Family and friends waited at John F. Kennedy International Airport early Friday to greet the 15-member group from the Trinity United Methodist Church in Hackettstown, a town of about 11,000 residents in northwest Jersey. They hugged and kissed their loved ones in front of a banner saying, "Welcome back, Haiti team. We love you.''
Frank Procaccini, returning from his fifth Haitian aid trip, said the church group was in an open field playing ball with children from an orphanage when he heard an explosion and felt the ground shake.
"The ground was actually like an ocean, and we were actually like riding the waves,'' said Procaccini, of Long Valley, N.J. "It just kept rolling.''
He said the group took a school bus to the airport for a flight out of the decimated country and saw chaos and misery along the crumbled roadways.
"Total devastation, buildings down, supermarkets just crushed in,'' he said. "People looking in the rubble for people, trying to dig them out, but they couldn't do it.''
The church members who visited Haiti included two high school students and were led by the Rev. Frank Fowler. They provided birth kits, diapers and other supplies to the impoverished country.
Fowler's wife, Karen Fowler, called the group's safe return "a happy ending.''
But a New Jersey college student on a separate trip to Haiti was still unaccounted for early Friday.
Officials at Lynn University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said four of its 12 students who were in Haiti when the earthquake hit Tuesday were missing. Among them was Christine Gianacaci, of Hopewell, N.J.
Two faculty members also had not been located.
For much of the day Thursday, university officials said that Gianacaci was the only missing student, but they announced late Thursday that three students believed to have been found were not.
They said they had received "bad intelligence.''
Gianacaci's grandfather James Hall, of Hopewell, was anxiously awaiting word.
"That's the hardest part of this -- the waiting,'' he said.
Hall said that Gianacaci's parents had traveled to Florida and that he hears from them often, but he didn't know much about the trip his granddaughter was on.
Another New Jersey native on the trip, 19-year-old Lindsay Doran, of Rumson, was with a group of eight students who arrived safely in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Thursday, the university said.
Members of another church mission from New Jersey also were safe. A group from three Mercer County congregations was at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, on Thursday awaiting evacuation to the Dominican Republic.
Cooper University Hospital, in Camden, and Hackensack University Medical Center announced they were organizing medical missions to Haiti.
The Record of Bergen County reported that four New Jersey men who were in Haiti on a humanitarian mission to build housing for orphans remain stranded in Les Cayes, about 85 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince.
Speaking Thursday with family members through an online video chat, the group said they plan to do what they can to help those affected by the earthquake.
"We have the skill set, we have the time and we have ability to help these people,'' Jeff Wells, an architect, said from a mission home and hotel in Les Cayes. "We're here, so we'll see if we can help.''
Frank Fowler, the leader of the Trinity church members, said God played a role in rescuing his group. When the church group arrived at the airport, he said, it found the crew of an Icelandic search and rescue plane that had just dropped off supplies and was leaving -- with enough room to take people out.
"I believe God's hand,'' he said, "is in everything.''