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Originally published January 13, 2010 at 11:07 AM | Page modified January 13, 2010 at 11:50 PM

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Corrected version

Northwest agencies organize aid to Haiti

Pacific Northwest-based aid agencies are scrambling to raise funds and organize relief efforts for survivors of the earthquake that has devastated Haiti's densely populated capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Pacific Northwest-based aid agencies are scrambling to raise funds and organize relief efforts for survivors of the earthquake that has devastated Haiti's densely populated capital city of Port-au-Prince.

They include Seattle-based World Concern, which has more than 100 employees, most of them Haitian, involved in development work in the region. World Concern officials in Seattle said they have been able to reach the country's director, Christon Domond, who said the organization's headquarters office and employees survived the earthquake but many surrounding buildings did not.

"He said the office shook really bad, that the building next door collapsed, that there were people running and screaming and crying," said Merry Fitzpatrick, World Concern's disaster director. She is scheduled to leave today for Haiti to help plan the organization's relief effort, which in the early hours has consisted mostly of search and rescue.

World Concern also was able to contact Pierre Duclona, the program's director in the south Haitian city of Les Cayes, where the earthquake also slammed the community. "Les Cayes citizens were terrified yesterday night. Most of them, including my family, slept [outside] fearing other major earthquakes ... Right [now], I'm alone at the office to inform you," he wrote in an e-mail today.

World Concern's staff is almost entirely composed of Haitian nationals and will be tapping into private as well as U.S. government supplies to help in the relief effort it hopes will soon be supplemented by cargo ships, according to Derek Sciba, the organization's marketing manager.

Another Northwest aid group with major programs in Haiti is World Vision, which is headquartered in Federal Way, and has some 370 staff members in the nation.

World Vision officials say that downed communications, blocked roads and aftershocks slowed early relief efforts and that staff in Port-au-Prince were unable to leave the office for several hours after the quake due to roadway debris.

"It felt as if a truck had hit a wall," said World Vision's Magalie Boyer, describing the initial tremor, in a statement released by the aid organization. "There is extensive damage in the city. People are getting ready to spend the night in the streets. They are not comfortable staying in their houses."

World Vision plans to distribute first-aid kits, along with basic materials such as soap, blankets, clothes and water in the early aid response.

The earthquake epicenter was near Port-au-Prince, where some of the worst damage was reported. World Vision staff from less affected areas of the nation are traveling to the major disaster zone to assist, according the statement released by World Vision.

"There are relief goods prepositioned in various locations across the country, though the challenge will be getting those supplies swiftly to those in need," said Crystal Penner, a World Vision aid worker, in the statement released by the organization.

Medical Teams International, with offices in Oregon and Washington, is scheduled to ship supplies and send two teams of doctors Thursday. The first team will be led by Dr. Joe Markee of Vancouver, Wash., who has served as a medical missionary in Haiti. The second team will be led by Dr. Lew Zirkle, an orthopedic surgeon, from Richland, who has trained Haitian surgeons.

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Mercy Corps, an aid organization based in Portland, with an office in Seattle, also is raising funds to assist in the relief and will send staff to the region, according to Cassandra Nelson, a Mercy Corps official.

Part of the challenge is just reaching Haiti, as it is unclear when normal air service can be restored to the main airport at Port-au-Prince.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published Jan. 13, 2010, was corrected Jan. 13, 2010. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated a person's name. The correct spelling is Pierre Duclona.

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