Anxious families seek word on more than 1,400 Canadians missing in Haiti

Ottawa’s list of 1,415 Canadians missing in Haiti is a roll of anguish for families across the country.

OTTAWA — Ottawa’s list of 1,415 Canadians missing in Haiti is a roll of anguish for families across the country.

It gives Nerlande Jules only the faintest of hopes. Her partner, Jean Lissade is on the list, and she knows he’s still alive, the Montreal woman says.

But through networking and pulling together bits and pieces of information, she’s also been able to figure out that he’s living in the street, has no belongings or identification, and nothing to eat or drink.

“We know he is alive, but he is dying of hunger.”

Jules believes she knows more about Haitian conditions, sitting in her Montreal home, than Lissade does in the quake-ravaged streets of Port-au-Prince. But she can’t find a way to tell him that he should somehow find a way to get to the Canadian embassy, or walk to his cousin’s house in a nearby town, where he can find food.

Hundreds of Canadians are still missing in Haiti, despite ramped-up efforts to dig through rubble and follow up on tips from anxious families back home, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told a morning briefing.

“It doesn’t mean, obviously, that these people are trapped in one way or another in the debris,” he said. “It just means that we have not yet been able to contact them.”

Ottawa is working with information garnered from 16,400 phone calls to its operations room at the Department of Foreign Affairs in order to figure out who is missing and try to find them. It’s also relying on a list of Canadians who formally registered with the embassy in Haiti.

And Ottawa has beefed up consular staff in both Port-au-Prince and nearby Santo Domingo to help in the effort to find the missing, Cannon added.

Emmanuel Hilaire is taking his father off the missing-persons list. After days of desperate searching, fruitless phone calls and combing the Internet, he received a text message at 5 a.m. on Friday morning from the 78-year-old.

“He told me everything was ok,” the Ottawa man said.

The military has already flown 272 Canadians home, but 50 others were still being sheltered at the Canadian embassy in Haiti, with 50 more housed elsewhere.

The official Canadian death toll remained at four, with 13 others injured.

While consular staff focused on the effort to help Canadians, Canada’s role in the broader relief operation was growing.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the military had flown in rescue equipment, humanitarian supplies and RCMP and military police officers.

”The Canadian Forces have made good progress in establishing a footprint for staging search and rescue operations, relief efforts and aid delivery,” MacKay said.

Four more flights on Friday carried more people from the military disaster response team as well as six G-wagons, which are armoured SUVs.

The longer-term plan is to send two big C-17 transports every day, with smaller C-130 Hercules aircraft making three flights every two days.

Two Canadian warships, HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Halifax are expected to arrive in four days or so, with additional relief equipment.

“The primary goal right now, in addition to delivering food and water, is assisting in the search for those buried under the rubble,” MacKay said.

France Gosselin is looking to those troops to locate her father under the piles of concrete that used to be the classy Montana Hotel. Her 78-year-old father, Roger Gosselin from St-Sulpice, QC., was last heard of going into the lobby of the hotel minutes before the quake.

“We keep hoping,” she said.

But Canada is only one of many countries involved in the rescue effort, and logistics are proving to be a challenge, especially with so much communications equipment destroyed in Tuesday night’s quake.

Indeed, the Quebec government fell victim to faulty information, telling the public on Thursday that ex-federal MP Serge Marcil had been found alive in Haiti, only to have to backtrack on Friday.

Ottawa is co-ordinating its rescue work closely with United Nations officials in New York and Haiti, and is also seeking some leadership from the Haitian government. Brazil is taking a key role in policing, and the United States is working on air-traffic control and telecommunications.

But many logistical decisions are taken “step by step” by people on the ground, Cannon added.

As for money, Ottawa is trying to take a lead in organizing the international aid effort. The aim is to set up a conference of major international donors in order to ensure the hundreds of millions of dollars pouring forth are focused on the long-term development needs of the impoverished country, Cannon said.

“We are stepping up to the plate in that regard.”

Cannon and MacKay both expressed condolences to the family of an RCMP officer killed in the quake.

Sgt. Mark Gallagher’s body was discovered in the wreckage of his quarters in Port-au-Prince.

As many as 50,000 people are feared dead in the quake, with thousands more at risk from thirst, hunger and disease.

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