With tens of thousands feared dead in Haiti following Tuesday's massive earthquake, New Yorkers with family in the Caribbean country continue to worry and wait for word about the fate of family and friends.
Early Thursday, on cell phone communication in Haiti went out again -- leaving many without any way of contacting loved ones. In Haitian communities in Brooklyn and Queens, worried people gathered to share information as the extent of the damage becomes clear. Thousands of people are still unaccounted for.
The 7.0-magnitude quake Tuesday caused thousands of buildings to collapse in Port-au-Prince, trapping untold numbers. The death toll is feared to be in the hundreds of thousands.
For days, every time the phone in her Floral Park home rang, Betty Auguste jumped, hoping, she said, "for good news."
Today, the good news came- first, 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."
Auguste's relatives all live in Delmas, a suburb of Haiti's capital city and after the massive quake, Musset Auguste, 51, was forced to walk miles from his job in Port-au-Prince to his home in the suburbs. Along the way, he saw people bleeding and crying and damaged homes everywhere- a lot of damaged homes, according to his sister.
Musset Auguste and his elderly parents are now sleeping in their yard because their home, like so many others, is unsafe.
Still, the ending to this story is one for which many Haitian-Americans are now praying.
The United States is sending 3,500 soldiers and 300 medical personnel to help with rescue efforts disaster relief and security. An 80 person search and rescue team from New York will land in Haiti Thursday night to help with the disaster relief. The police and firefighters are members of Task Force One, which is managed by the city's Office of Emergency Management.
"President Obama asked for our assistance and we are answering his call to respond to the unimaginably tragic events in Haiti by sending the best - our specially trained joint task force of New York City police officers and firefighters," said Mayor Bloomberg. "The world came to our aid on 9/11 and we want to provide assistance around the globe when needed."
A convoy of Dominican police, bringing water trucks and mobile kitchens, will roll into Haiti for the first time today. The convoy will be led by the Dominican military for protection, officials tell NBC New York.
An Air China plane carrying a Chinese search-and-rescue team, medics and tons of food and medicine landed at Port-au-Prince airport before dawn, along with French planes with aid and a mobile hospital, officials said. A British relief team arrived in neighboring Dominican Republic.
Dozens of nations have pledged food, water, medical supplies to assist the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, where the international Red Cross estimated 3 million people -- a third of the population -- may need emergency relief.
Betty August says she has been reaching out to other Haitians to try and get news from home. As she waits, she says she is trying to keep occupied.
"We have to keep ourselves busy. Yesterday I cleaned the house top to bottom to keep my mind busy."
According to census estimates, there are about 232,000 people of Haitian origin in the New York City area, including northern New Jersey and Long Island. There are about 122,000 in the city alone.
At the Haitian Consulate in Manhattan, many of the more than dozen staff members sobbed while also trying to field calls from people offering to make a donation. Many were unable to reach their loved ones in Haiti. On Thursday, communication was still mostly frozen, with cell phones, landlines, and Internet communications all experiencing outages.
"The situation is dire,'' said Felix Augustine, the consulate counsel general who said he hadn't slept all night. "I would say it is indescribable."
"All communication lines are down," said Yolane Milfort, the consulate's community liaison. She said one of the employee's mother was missing.
Her eyes welling up with tears, Milfort said she had been trying unsuccessfully since 6 p.m. Tuesday to contact her own daughter in Haiti.
"We saw the world come to our aid back on 9/11," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, adding that New York now wants to "make sure that the world comes to the aid of the Haitian people.''
Bloomberg noted that many Haitians have moved to New York and said they make a "significant'' contribution to the city. He called the tragedy "heart-wrenching.''
Michael Fromer, whose company Millennium Energy Holding has been trying to build a refinery in the northern part of Haiti, said he came to the consulate Wednesday as a friend.
"They're going to need heavy equipment because there is none down there to clear debris,'' he said, adding that he was working with construction companies to arrange for some to be transported there.
In Brooklyn's East Flatbush neighborhood, home to many Haitian immigrants, residents have been glued to their televisions seeking any morsels of information about the earthquake.
Herve Paris was at the Brooklyn offices of Radio Soleil, which serves the city's Haitian community. The 45-year-old was trying to learn the fate of his parents, as well as nephews, nieces and other relatives.
"The first thing I tried to do was call; I tried like 15 different numbers. I can't get in contact,'' he said.
Paris said a friend in Brooklyn reached someone in Haiti who said another mutual friend had died, along with his two young children, in their home.
Paris said he was particularly concerned about his mother, who is in a wheelchair after a stroke.
"I have a lot of pressure; my mom is paralyzed, she's unable to run, she's unable to do anything,'' he said. ``I have to go to Haiti one way or the other. I have to find my loved ones; I'm really concerned. This is a catastrophe.''
Gov. David Paterson said the state is creating a registry of New Yorkers known to be in Haiti during the earthquake so families can be notified of their whereabouts as quick as possible.
"We want to be helpful from the state level, our state Emergency Management office has been in contact with all the appropriate federal agencies, our National Guard is willing to fly planes in there,'' Paterson said.