Kamloops ready to help Haiti earthquake victims

What began as a humanitarian trip to build a dorm for poverty stricken children in Haiti has turned into a rescue operation to aid victims of Tuesday's devastating earthquake.

As firefighter Ken Baerg kept his fingers crossed Wednesday that next week's departure for Operation Haiti happens as scheduled, the daughter of missionaries in Haiti kept a vigil at her computer for an email from her family.

Baerg and 16 other firefighters, correctional guards and nurses intend to leave for Haiti on Jan. 21. Kamloops Fire and Rescue raised thousands of dollars to build a youth dormitory on land belonging to former Kamloops residents Rod and Debbie Wray

The Wrays left careers, family and friends, and settled in Southern Haiti six years ago. The family intends to convert it into a getaway for underprivileged children.

The 7.0-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon, killing thousands of people and leaving Port-au-Prince, the capital city, in ruins.

Baerg said the shockwave rocked the Wray's property 90 kilometres away and knocked out phone lines and surrounding roads.

"They really felt it, but nothing compared to Port-au-Prince," he said.

Now the focus of Operation Haiti has changed. Baerg said crews still intend to build the dorm, but the primary goal will be to help earthquake survivors as best they can.

Fire chief Neill Moroz said some firefighters might join a team from Global Medical to help with water purification and assist medical personnel.

He said there is a natural pull for firefighters to help with disaster relief. Many from Kamloops have travelled to the United States to do so.

"There is an inclination to help out wherever we're needed," said Moroz.

The Wray's have a daughter, Carly Zielke, in Kamloops. She spent Wednesday sitting in front of her computer anxiously waiting for an email from her parents.

Zielke received a message from her parents shortly after the earthquake struck. Her family and the compound are fine.

The quake shattered communications systems in the Caribbean country, which might explain why more emails haven't appeared in her inbox, she said.

"I'm guessing (the Internet) is just down," said Zielke.

It's been a tough year for Zielke. Her infant son died in September and the trailer she and her husband lived in at Napier Lake burned down before Christmas. She is thankful a third tragedy has been avoided.

Zielke visits her family once a year and was in Haiti when a mudslide wiped out several homes a couple of years ago. She said the country has suffered one disaster after another.

"It was devastating when all the houses were buried. Now, I can't even imagine," she said. "Everything was already a disaster. That poor country."

Wayne McRann visited Haiti in October while preparing for a trip with Developing World Connections. Most of the country is already living in poverty and he doesn't know how the people will survive this disaster, said McRann.

While he was there, McRann stayed in a historic hotel that used to house celebrities from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. He is sure the building was lost in the earthquake.

"It was pretty much a run down place now, but my thoughts were there is no way that place would have survived," he said.

No one from Kamloops will travel to Haiti as part of an aid mission with the Canadian Red Cross.

But branch manager Celine Calfa said residents can make donations to the relief effort by stopping by the office at 943 Victoria Street, phoning 1-800-418-1111 or online at redcross.ca.

jhewlett@kamloopsnews.ca

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