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Nashua family hears of relative’s death back in Haiti

By Staff | Jan 17, 2010

For days, there was no word.

Ketlie Camille, of Nashua, kept her eyes glued to the television atop her refrigerator and her hand close to a phone. Her son Rony Camille worked other angles for information – any scrap of news about their large extended family, who live near the earthquake-ravaged city of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.

Since the 7.0-scale quake rocked Ketlie Camille’s native Caribbean country last week, phone lines have been clogged and Internet connections broken, leaving her desperate to know the well-being of her siblings, nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. She’s had trouble sleeping, and has awoken in the middle of the night.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she said.

Ketlie’s husband, Nicholson Camille, was relieved to learn early that his father survived. But on Friday morning, bad news came: Ketlie Camille’s niece had perished in a collapsed office building.

“It’s really hard,” Camille said, gripping a white cordless phone as she broke into tears. “I feel sick. I feel really helpless.”

The news was a blow, and the Camille family realizes more painful calls could be on the way. The earthquake is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of Haitians, many of whom – like Camille’s family – live near or in the capital city.

“I can see it, but I can’t imagine what both my parents are going through,” Rony Camille said.

Both Ketlie and Nicholson Camille were born and raised in Haiti. While her parents stayed near the Toussaint L’Ouverture International Airport, Ketlie Camille lived with relatives in Petionville, a suburb of Port-Au-Prince.

The houses were brick, and the people were nice – like family, she said.

After 19 years in Haiti, Camille left for Montreal. She and Nicholson Camille then lived in Ottawa before deciding to move to the United States. Nicholson Camille’s sister lives in Boston, so the couple eventually chose Nashua as a place to raise their three children: Rony, Michael and Nathacha. In 1998, they bought a little cape in the south end of the city.

Since then, the Camilles have returned to Haiti several times.

Rony Camille, who interned at The Cabinet Press in 2007, went in October 2008 on assignment for ABC and to see family. Things had improved since his visit six years before, but the roads were still in poor condition, and his uncle’s house was literally “sinking into the ground,” he said.

Nicholson Camille, a computer programmer, and Ketlie Camille, who works as a nursing assistant, last went in July, about a year after a series of hurricanes toppled power lines, destroyed roads, killed hundreds of people and left tens of thousands of Haitian homeless.

“It was happy and sad at the same time,” she said. “My brothers were still dealing with the effects of the hurricanes. They lost a lot of things … and the kids were very sick.”

The losses included much of the backyard gardens, on which they rely for peas, eggplant, sweet potatoes and many other vegetables.

Houses were shoddily reconstructed – no match for the earthquake that re-toppled them.

“If they get a lot of rain, just the river would wash them away,” Nicholson Camille said.

Still, he felt that international relief workers still on hand from the hurricane had helped spark some progress in Port-Au-Prince. By talking with local people and business owners, and reading newspapers, Camille believed city residents were starting to feel empowered. Roads, houses and telecommunications were improving. Plans were being developed.

Now, the earthquake will set that hope back for years. Nicholson Camille is now very concerned about the next few days. He isn’t inspired in watching the news, where he’s seeing aircraft carrying supplies and emergency workers circle the airport for hours because of seeming disorganization.

“People who are still alive now will be dead by the time they are found,” he said. “The health issue will be very grave.”

Karen Lovett can be reached at 594-6402 or klovett@nashuatelegraph.com.


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