Thousands of Haitians at home and abroad are trying to get in touch with each other through a website set up after the devastating earthquake, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.
About 2,000 Haitians, many in the United States and Canada, registered on the site, www.icrc.org/familylinks, within less than 24 hours of it going live, ICRC spokeswoman Anna Schaaf said.
Many sought relatives in the capital, Port-au-Prince. “They include 250 names registered by people in Haiti saying they were looking for someone there, like a brother,” she said. A further 50 people in Haiti had registered to report their own well-being, but it was up to users to match names, she said. Social media, including Facebook, played a huge role by offering links to the ICRC site, spokesman Marcal Izard said. Robert Zimmerman, deputy head of the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency and Protection Division, said in a statement: “The aim of the Family Links website is to accelerate the process of restoring contact between separated family members.” The Haitian Red Cross said it believed 45,000 to 50,000 people had died and 3 million more were hurt or left homeless by the major 7.0 magnitude quake that hit Haiti's capital on Tuesday. Many phone lines were cut, frustrating expatriates desperate for news of loved ones. The website will be a “crucial tool” to clarify the fate of those who were missing, according to ICRC. The Geneva-based agency, a neutral humanitarian organization, is managing the website in cooperation with the Haitian National Red Cross and other agencies. “On the ground in Haiti we are also taking (tracing) requests from people on the streets who have no access to Internet. We will put their data on the website,” Izard said.
For decades, the ICRC has helped families caught up in wars or natural disasters trace missing loved ones. Only in recent years has it moved from paper records to an online form. A plane with 11 ICRC staff, including two tracing experts, was due to land in Port-au-Prince later on Thursday, bringing the number of ICRC expatriates deployed in the country to 20. A separate cargo plane was due to take off from Geneva later in the day, carrying 40 tonnes of medical and surgical supplies to treat wounded, 100 stretchers and 3,000 body bags. A tonne of chlorine to treat water and basic health supplies to cover 10,000 people for three months would also be on board.