Relatives of Florida students frustrated with search effort
Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 10:57 a.m.
DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Family and friends of missing Americans have searched the ruins themselves. They've hired private rescue teams. They've pleaded with the U.S. government to do more to help bring home loved ones who disappeared amid the rubble of earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
More than a week after the quake rocked the country, the grief of not knowing has become unbearable. Frustration and hopelessness have boiled into anger against the U.S. government.
"We know our daughter was there and we want them to find her!" yelled Leonard Gengel, hammering his fist on a table.
Gengel's 19-year-old daughter Brittany is one of four Florida college students still missing. Two of their teachers are also believed buried at the Hotel Montana in Port-Au-Prince.
It remains unclear exactly how many Americans are missing. The U.S. Embassy in Port-Au-Prince had so far accounted for at least 9,400 of up to 45,000 Americans who were in Haiti before the quake. But some Americans may not have been affected by the devastation, and others may be OK but haven't contacted officials.
At least 35 Americans have been confirmed dead, with U.S. officials investigating reports of an additional 21 potential U.S. fatalities.
Friends and relatives want the Americans brought home — dead or alive.
"I think everyone has accepted the fact that they're not going to find everyone alive, but we at least want to bury our loved ones on American soil and not under the rubble," said Forrest Masters, who is in Haiti helping search for a family friend.
Confusion has added to the frustration. At one point, Gengel was told by the university his daughter had been found, but the news turned out to be "bad intelligence" from a rescue crew in Haiti.
The school, Lynn University in Boca Raton, has hired private rescue teams to help search for the missing faculty and students, who were there to distribute food and visit schools and orphanages. Eight of their classmates escaped and have returned home safe.
"These kids went down there on a journey of hope, that's what it was called, and it's turned into a journey of hell," said Gengel, of Rutland, Mass.
Sally Baldwin, of Fort Worth, Texas, is praying for any word about her son, Brendan Beck, 35. He also is believed lost in the rubble of the Montana.
Beck, an engineer doing consulting work in Haiti, checked into the hotel for a night to catch a flight to another part of the country the next day. His mother is angry that she's not getting information from the government; U.S. officials say they're doing what they can under difficult conditions.
"Given that most Americans do not register with the embassy ... it is often impossible to say in these situations how many are missing," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said. "As for sharing information, we can always do a better job ... I think we have been sharing the information we have, but many times it is just not enough to be of help to families in anguish."
According to the White House there were 43 international search-and-rescue groups in Haiti with more than 1,700 personnel, including more than 500 from the U.S. Altogether, they had rescued more than 120 people from the rubble as of Wednesday.
The United Nations, which is coordinating the rescue teams, recently determined no additional search-and-rescue groups were needed. Rescue efforts will eventually give way to recovery of bodies, and there's a chance some may never be found.
But even a week after the earthquake hit, teams emerged from the rubble with improbable success stories — including the rescue of several people. That leaves some hope for John Gianacaci, of Hopewell, N.J. His 22-year-old daughter, Christine, is one of the missing Lynn students.
"This is the United States of America. They perform miracles all across the world ... Where's our miracle?"
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