Tri-Citians offer help to Haiti

Tri-Citians with connections to Haiti are staying glued to news reports and awaiting word from friends in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince.

They're also helping coordinate donations and encouraging friends and neighbors to send aid to the country, which already was poverty-stricken before the quake that's estimated to have left thousands dead.

"It's going to be a mess. It's going to be absolutely chaotic down there," said Randy Mullen of Pasco, who along with his wife, Tracy, adopted two children from Haiti last year.

The Mullens have heard that the orphanage outside Port-Au-Prince where they found Dounelson, 8, and Julia, 4, was damaged along with the group's office in the city, but that no one was hurt at either place, Randy Mullen said.

They're still waiting to hear from some of their Haitian friends.

The Mullens traveled to the country several times over the past few years. Tracy Mullen said she came to love it, and each time it was harder to leave.

"I'm hoping that people here realize it's not a country that's halfway around the world. It's in our backyard. Every little bit can help," she said.

Chris Coburn of Pasco also has a special connection to the country. She's been to Haiti many times over the last 22 years through the Florida-based World Harvest Missions Outreach.

The group has an orphanage near Port-au-Prince not far from the airport, which reportedly was damaged along with many other buildings in the 7.0-magnitude quake and aftershocks.

Coburn said a Kennewick woman, Patty Thomas, is at the orphanage now. Coburn hasn't heard from anyone there but said she believes they're OK because the orphanage is in a compound that's structurally sound and has security and supplies.

Still, "it is so devastating, especially because no lines of communication are even open," she said.

Coburn goes to Haiti a few times a year, leading volunteers on medical mission trips. The groups usually stop at the compound and then travel to outlying areas to hold clinics.

"Once I set foot in the country, it felt like I was home. I was so overwhelmed and in love with the people in the country," said Coburn, who has adopted three Haitian children, Adlise, now 22, Leanne, 18, and Cheree, 14.

Coburn also helped introduce Randy Blumer of Kennewick to the country. Blumer is a real estate agent who first went to Haiti five years ago on a mission trip with City Church in Kennewick.

He's been back six times. He said poverty in Haiti is widespread and there's little infrastructure. The earthquake is just the latest in a string of disasters, including tropical storms and hurricanes in 2008 that killed hundreds.

"Maybe (the earthquake) will put a light on Haiti. We need to get over there and get the people some hope," Blumer said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire mentioned the crisis Wednesday during a news conference on proposed law enforcement legislation.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti and those Americans living there as well," she said.

Brandon Gregory, 22, of Benton City, went to Haiti last year through City Church. He said he was saddened to learn about the earthquake especially because of how much people there already have been through.

"The thing I would stress the most is that people are people wherever you go. They're the same whether you're in Africa, Haiti, America. (We should do) anything that we can to ease the pain and help them rebuild."

How to help

Officials say the best way to help right now is to send money, not donations of food or clothing.

* Chris Coburn and Randy Blumer are helping coordinate donations for World Harvest Missions Outreach. The Florida-based group has an orphanage in Haiti and is shipping supplies. For more information, call 737-1427 or 542-9331.

* People can donate through the American Red Cross at redcross.org or 1-800-REDCROSS. They also can stop by the Benton-Franklin chapter at 7202 W. Deschutes Ave. in Kennewick. To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text Haiti to 90999. The amount will be added to your next phone bill.

* Washington State University has set up a fund for students, staff, faculty and others related to the university to make donations. It's being administered by the WSU Foundation. Donations can be sent with the designation "Cougar Haitian Relief Fund" to the WSU Foundation at P.O. Box 641925, Pullman, WA 99164-1925. People also can go to wsufoundation.wsu.edu/giving

* www.whitehouse.gov also has a list of ways to help.

-- The Associated Press contributed this report.

-- Sara Schilling: 509-582-1402; sschilling@tricityherald.com