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Portlanders come together to mourn earthquake victims in Haiti

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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Andrew Scoggin

The Oregonian
January, 2010

In the faint light given off by the candles in their hands, about 80 people gathered in Portland with Port-au-Prince on their minds.

"What's going on right now in Haiti, we can barely look at it," said Hector Charisme of Portland, who is originally from the Caribbean island nation struck by a magnitude-7.0 earthquake Tuesday.

The vigil, held at 6 tonight near Skidmore Fountain in front of Mercy Corps headquarters, featured speeches, some tearful, from leaders in the Haitian and larger Portland community, including Mayor Sam Adams.

Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps, said support for earthquake victims in Haiti has been "incredible" so far, nearly comparable to the reaction after the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004.

Mercy Corps has raised nearly $2 million and will have supporters in Haiti within a few days, spokeswoman Caitlin Carlson said. The Blazers have partnered with Mercy Corps and will accept donations at their game Friday night.

Hermann Colas Jr., owner of Colas Construction Inc. in Portland, emigrated from Haiti to the U.S. when he was in his early 20s in 1969. Colas made contact with his brothers in Haiti after the quake, but said he had tell each brother that the other was OK because of damaged communications systems.

Reaching his extended family has not been easy for Colas. "I've been trying to get as many people as I know to see what's going on," he said.

Britt Anderson, who moved to Portland from Northern California, said she can relate to those in Haiti because of her experience with earthquakes.

"My heart just went out to them," Anderson said. "I know what it's like to wander out in the street after one (quake). Even though times are tough in America, we have to help them."

Despite the grim situation, Jean Robert Paris, who moved to Portland from Haiti when he was 8 years old, tried to keep a positive outlook. Haiti "has the chance to renew, rebuild and maybe be better than before," he said.