Ottawa's Haitian community continues to desperately try to get in touch with loved ones in Haiti following Tuesday's deadly earthquake that has left many in the capital feeling powerless.

The death toll from the earthquake could reach hundreds of thousands based on the extent of destruction, Haitian politicians said Wednesday. However, no firm figures are available.

A community worker in Ottawa said although people are trying to stay strong, they can't help but feel powerless not knowing if their families are safe.

"They're pulling out people from collapsed buildings and there are a lot of dead bodies on the streets, so people are trying to do the best they can and they're very in shock right now," said Jude Jean-Francois.

"It's very difficult for them and for us here as well because we find ourselves in a situation where we are powerless."

Community comes together

Residents in Ottawa gathered at a community centre in Vanier on Wednesday, where they sought comfort and tried to pull together their strength.

A Haitian social worker and a psychiatrist are on call for residents who need help dealing with the stress of being unable to contact their loved ones. Residents can call the community centre at 613-744-0876 to arrange an appointment.

A prayer ceremony is scheduled at Ottawa French Seventh-day Adventist Church at 375 King Edward Ave. at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

An estimated 10,000 Haitian-Canadians live in Ottawa-Gatineau; it's estimated about 100,000 Haitian-Canadians live across the country, mostly in Quebec.


The 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, Tuesday afternoon, toppling buildings and destroying communications, making it difficult to know the full extent of destruction or to properly estimate the number of dead. It's also making it difficult for people to get in touch with their family.

"People keep trying, but they cannot really get through. Or once you have a line, and communication is very difficult because you cannot really hear what people are saying," said Jean-Francois.

The International Red Cross estimates three million people may be affected. Thousands are feared dead.

Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive told CNN he thought the casualty total could be "over 100,000" -- though he gave no basis for his estimate and said he hopes it isn't true. Leading Senator Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, although he acknowledged that nobody really knows.

Among the dead is Ontario nurse Yvonne Martin, from Elmira, Ont. who arrived in Port-au-Prince Tuesday afternoon with a group of seven nurses from southern Ontario.

Former Quebec Liberal MP Serge Marcil is also missing after arriving in the Haitian capital Tuesday afternoon.

Ottawa-based Mountie missing

An Ottawa-based RCMP superintendent is among those missing. The family of Supt. Doug Coates has been notified that he is unaccounted for.

Coates had been stationed in Port-au-Prince as part of a UN training mission.

Although he remains missing, a media liaison officer for the RCMP suggested he could simply be helping in the rescue effort.

RCMP officials are also unsure of the whereabouts of Sgt. Mark Gallagher.

Ottawa Police Chief Vern White said three Ottawa police officers working for United Nations in Haiti survived the quake and are safe. The officers are now working with rescue and recovery teams.

Strongest quake in 200 years

The U.S. Geological Survey is calling the disaster the strongest earthquake to hit the area since 1770.

The massive quake incapacitated all three Doctors Without Borders medical facilities near Port-Au-Prince. One collapsed completely; the other two were so unstable they had to be abandoned.

The main prison in the capital city also fell, "and there are reports of escaped inmates," said UN humanitarian spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs from Geneva.

The quake was felt in the Dominican Republic, though no major damage was reported there. Similarly, houses shook in eastern Cuba, though no significant damage was reported.

Aid response

The federal government has pledged $5 million in immediate aid to Haiti in addition to the full weight of its disaster assistance capabilities.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is also offering help. He says the province is committed to aiding reconstruction efforts, including restoring electricity and health care in Haiti.

Friends and family of Canadians in Haiti can call the emergency operations centre in Ottawa at 1-800-387-3124 for assistance.

With files from, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press