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Haiti’s plight at forefront of concerns

We need to watch this.

That was the gist of a note from Executive Editor Joan Krauter late Tuesday afternoon, when the first bulletins came out of Haiti that an earthquake had struck.

The scope of the disaster wasn’t immediately evident due to difficulty in communicating with the island nation.

But mix the words “Haiti,” “earthquake” and “communications breakdown” and that’s prescription for catastrophe.

Soon enough, we knew this was a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

The game plan for the page 1-A design was torn up and we started over again, with Haiti dominating our front page. That’s the nature of the business.

Now, it’s Sunday and the tragedy continues to unfold. It’s hard to watch and read the coverage, because it is such an overwhelmingly sad and depressing story.

But we can’t look away because this international story is also a local story.

Many of our local houses of worship support missions in Haiti, not only with money but with the toil and sweat of volunteers.

Haitians are part of our work force, own businesses here. A few years ago, we identified 14 Haitian houses of worship in the Manatee-Sarasota area.

Yet, we tend to forget that they are among us, and we tend to block out the fact that Haiti sits right out there in the Caribbean, within rafting distance of Florida.

I first became aware that Haitians were becoming a significant presence in the United States in the late 1970s, when I went to work for a weekly newspaper south of Lake Okeechobee. Belle Glade, in particular, had a large Haitian population.

Herald Chief Photographer Grant Jefferies and former Herald reporter Rod Harmon went to Haiti in 1999 to report on that country. Grant tells me it was a grim, hard place, where it was not unusual to see a body in the street. Yet the people were welcoming and hospitable.

Friday, I did a round of interviews with local clergy, and their words of wisdom and charitable outlook left me feeling better. The clergy I talked to had a feeling of concern, and many of their congregations were already involved in good works in Haiti.

It has been encouraging that so many ordinary Americans, in the midst of our economic miseries, have contributed to relief efforts.

Victims are still being rescued and bodies recovered. The cleanup and the hard work of rebuilding is still in the future. Maybe this time it will be different, and Haiti will get the aid and guidance it needs to become a healthy country.

Are we our brother’s keeper? I think we are.

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