With the situation on the ground in Haiti improving ever so slightly, relief shipments continued apace, filling all 100 landing slots at Port-au-Prince’s small airport and sending a steady stream of trucks across the devastated nation’s border with the Dominican Republic.

Among the United Nations convoys were unmarked white trucks dispatched by Rabbi Shimon Pelman, the S. Domingo-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic. Stocked with non-perishable food, water and medical supplies, they joined the hundreds of thousands of pounds of materials headed into the worst of the destruction days after a Jan. 12 earthquake left the Haitian capital in shambles.

But while some semblance of law and order appeared to finally take hold in troubled neighborhoods and bits of good news filtered through the rubble – a baby was born in the field hospital set up by a unit from the Israel Defense Force’s Home Front Command and a seven-year-old girl was rescued from a crumbling supermarket – families both in Haiti and around the world came to grips with the tremendous, and deeply personal, loss of life.

Frederick Wooldridge, a 41-year-old U.N. worker, became the first confirmed British fatality in the island nation’s worst earthquake in more than 200 years. And news reports told of mourning Haitians setting fire to corpses that hadn’t yet been collected by local police.

Hope Against Hope

In the United States, family and friends of four missing Lynn University students and two faculty members struggled to maintain hope, but admittedly feared the worst.

“We are running out of time,” Len Gengel told reporters at a press conference Saturday at the Boca Raton, Fla., school, according to local television station WPTV.

Gengel’s daughter, Britney Gengel was one of some 12 students spending part of their winter break distributing food to the poor as part of the university’s Journey for Hope-Haiti program when the 7.0-magnitude quake struck.

“We need your help,” added Gengel, as he choked back tears. “President Obama, you inspired our generation to give back to help others … the poorest of the poor … and [these kids] have done that. Father to father, I am asking you, I am pleading you to go help us to go get our children.”

A truck stocked with supplies departs Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic for Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
A truck stocked with supplies departs Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic for Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Rabbi Boruch Shmuel Liberow, director of the Chabad Student Center in Boca Raton, was called in to help counsel Gengel’s classmates at Lynn University, which cancelled classes last week. Although everyone rejoiced when eight were freed from Port-au-Prince’s Montana Hotel and quickly airlifted out of Haiti, said the rabbi, the fate of the missing is always on their minds.

“The students are shocked, sad and asking a lot of questions,” said Liberow, who dedicated the center’s Shabbat dinner to those who came home and in solidarity with those still to be found. “They want to know why this happened. They’re in need of comfort and a listening ear.”

A statement from the university said that the stated belief is that “our students and faculty members [are] alive and in need of rescue.” A total of five teams are working on the search and rescue effort, and representatives are also working behind the scenes in the Dominican Republic.

“Our thoughts continue to also be with members of our Lynn community who have loved ones in Haiti,” the statement continued. “We have dozens of employees we have spoken with who have deep family roots in the country, and they continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.”

In S. Domingo, where Pelman is working with diplomatic officials and securing warehouses for the relief effort, the rabbi said that the goal is to get as much aid into Haiti as quickly as possible.

“They are in need of all the basics, food, water, medicine,” said the rabbi, who saw the devastation first hand on Friday and set up a relief fund in conjunction with the Puerto Rico-based Chabad of the Caribbean. “We are all racing against the clock.”