Queens Man Joins Dominican Relief Effort in Haiti

Clyde Vanel desperately looking to find family, stand by community

By Tom Llamas and Jennifer Millman
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 10:12 AM EDT
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Queens Man Rushes to Scene of Haiti Disaster

NBCNewYork.com

Clyde Vanel

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Relief is slowly beginning to funnel into catastrophe-ridden Haiti, as residents continue to dig through the debris hoping to find any survivors in the aftermath of a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that may have left tens of thousands dead.

With massive damage to all infrastructure, transportation in and out of the impoverished country is extremely difficult.

Santo Domingo, a city in the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with the disaster ravaged Haiti, has been a launch pad for those desperately trying to help in the relief efforts -- and those desperate to find loved ones they haven't heard from for days.

Clyde Vanel, the son of Haitian immigrants who ran for Queens city council in November, is one of those individuals both trying to help his family and his community.

Vanel traveled to Santo Domingo without a plan – without a rental car or a hotel. Several of his relatives live in Port Au Prince, the Haitian capital home to more than 2 million people that became Ground Zero when the earthquake hit Jan. 12. Vanel hasn't heard from any of his family members since the quake, and he's determined to find them.

"I'm here to stand with my people. I'm here to look for my family, look for friends' family," Vanel said. "As Haitians, we must stand united and I must stand with my people."

Vanel's parents, who immigrated to Queens in the 70s speaking little English and with no real foundation to speak of, have been trying to reach out to their relatives in Haiti with no luck. Vanel's nine siblings, also born in Queens, his friends, haven't had any luck making contact either. So Vanel took it upon himself to go to the scene of the disaster.

"The Haitian people are resilient people, and being of Haitian background we must stand to unite. They need help, and I couldn't stay home and just watch. I had to come and do something about it," said Vanel.

As for how he plans to get into the country, Vanel could only say, "I don't know. I'll just try to do what I can when I get there."

There may be up to 3 million people with stories just like Vanel's, trying to communicate with each other, on social networking sites, in churches and on the streets of their communities, to find out if there families and friends are alive.  

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