In Haiti, thousands of people live in anguish, unsure whether their relatives have been buried under the rubble or alive and unable to communicate. In a city where normal communications are shattered, the ICRC is using every means available to help people get find out what happened to loved ones. Satellite phones and a special website (www.icrc.org/familylinks), are helping thousands to call abroad to reassure their families and pass on vital news. Many Haitians depend on support from relatives abroad, so getting in touch is vital. For many, those relatives are now the only ones they have.
Within Haiti, many families have lost touch with each other in the chaos of the earthquake and its aftermath. Families were often split up in the rescue effort as they were taken to different emergency posts or fled to the countryside from the city in ruins. Children are particularly vulnerable since many have been left with no parents to care for them and separated from extended families.
"If you need to let others know that you are alive or if you are looking for your relatives. It is urgent to register your name at the Haitian Red Cross or on the ICRC Internet site" is the word out on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Red Cross workers call out the message by megaphone in the makeshift camps which have become the temporary homes of thousands in Port au Prince.
The local phone network was damaged so satellite phones are being provided by the Haitian Red Cross for the people of Port-au-Prince to call relatives abroad - like Docilma Robenson who tells his parents in Florida that he has just become a father.
The ICRC and Haitian Red Cross are registering names on a special website. In the Haitian capital and throughout the country the survivors and their relatives have been signing up in thousands. Requests to trace missing relatives come in daily.
The children of Port-au-prince have been badly affected by the disaster. Thousands of them are now homeless and many have lost parents. This 6 year old year, (name withheld) lost his parents and his two brothers in the disaster. His uncle explains, "His house was really crushed. He lost all his family, his mother and his father and his two brothers who were at home"
The ICRC is concerned about the fate of orphans roaming the streets of Port-au-Prince and checks up on all the cases it comes across, even if it means climbing up the hills of the Desprez district to find out who is caring for this little boy. They find his grandmother, herself injured in the disaster, and check that the child is in good hands. The sheer number of cases makes the checking work slow and difficult says ICRC officer, Ginou Pierre Taverne.
In the afternoon, ICRC delegates find the parents of a two month old girl who was rescued in the ruins of her house and taken to a hospital in Florida for medical treatment. The request to look for them has come from the States. The baby's parents confirm that the child in the photos is their daughter. Her father explains how they were separated:
"I looked for the baby at the spot in the house where I thought she should be. I did not find anything. There were American journalists that came to the house when I was not there with rescuers and dogs. I was told that they had found the baby. I hurried back to the ruins but they had left with the baby. This child is my life. I wish she could always be next to me. That is all we wish for."
The ICRC family links site (www.icrc.org/familylinks) for Haiti currently lists over 25,600 names. Over 3000 people have posted a "safe and well" message on the website, while 22,000 persons are listed as unaccounted for. In the first two weeks following the earthquake, Red Cross tracing teams enabled survivors in the largest camps in Port-au-Prince to make over 2000 phone calls to relatives abroad.