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Volunteers, donors mobilize to help Haiti earthquake victims

'Outpouring of support just phenomenal,' Red Cross says

Volunteers and donors are mobilizing across the Bay Area to assist victims of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit just outside the capital of Haiti Tuesday night.

Although electricity is out and phone lines are down throughout the country, the U.S. government and nonprofit agencies are reporting collapsed buildings, downed bridges, blocked streets and widespread injuries and casualties in Haiti.

An estimated 3 million people are affected by the quake, and International Red Cross spokesman Florian Westphal described the situation as "very bad" with "massive destruction."

It's still too early to predict how many people have been killed in the quake, but some estimates are as high as hundreds of thousands of deaths.

The Bay Area chapter of the Red Cross is not scheduled to send any disaster relief teams to Haiti, but spokeswoman Melanie Finke said the

organization has been busy processing contributions from people who want to help.

"The outpouring of support in the Bay Area is just phenomenal," she said. "So many people are calling in offering help and donations."

Finke said it usually takes a few days to assess the needs of a disaster area, so Bay Area Red Cross volunteers could be sent to Haiti in the near future.

Other organizations are also assessing the situation and trying to decide how best to assist the earthquake victims.

The Oakland chapter of the California Nurses Association union is registering volunteers to provide medical assistance in Haiti, and organization leaders met this morning to discuss details of the trip.

Although the logistics have not been finalized, nurses can sign up at wwww.nationalnursesunited.org to volunteer.

A Novato church with a bilingual Haitian congregation is also meeting this afternoon to plan relief efforts.

Dr. Edner Eloi of the Novato-Horeb Seventh-day Adventist Church said the church is planning a fundraiser for Saturday - once more information is available about the crisis.

Eloi has brothers and cousins in Haiti, as well as many friends, he said.

"We are worried about them because we don't know what happened," he said. "A lot of people have lost their lives."

Eloi has only been able to reach one friend in Haiti, who told him the situation is especially difficult because many people are trapped under collapsed buildings and there aren't many resources to help people.

The Red Cross has sent supplies from its warehouse in Panama, but the food, kitchen supplies, blankets, water containers and other aid items will only cover about 10,000 families.

The International Red Cross is working to send more supplies as quickly as possible, and several national governments have pledged military, civilian and humanitarian support. U.S. Coast Guard personnel and equipment were the first American assets on the ground, according to the U.S. State Department.

Bay Area residents can donate to the Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti at www.redcrossbayarea.org or by calling (888) 4-HELP-BAY.

The State Department is also sponsoring a mobile fundraiser. Donors can text "HAITI" to 90999 to make a $10 donation to the American Red Cross.

The U.S. government has also encouraged Americans trying to locate family members that are U.S. citizens and believed to be in Haiti to call the State Department at (888) 407-4747.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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