TAMPA — A missionary who spent the night in an empty pool pleaded for help in a frantic 30-second phone call to his wife; a nurse technician prayed for word about her 15 relatives, whose whereabouts are unknown; and a university student wept after receiving an e-mail from her mother, saying she was okay.
These scenes played out in the Tampa Bay area on Thursday, two days after a 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti, sending relatives here into a panic and mobilizing groups to swiftly organize relief efforts and vigils.
"People keep asking me, 'How can we help?' '' said USF football player Danous Estenor, the 20-year-old son of Haitian immigrants. "I'm just trying to keep a positive feeling in my head."
His parents live in Palm Beach but his paternal grandparents live in Haiti. Like several of his teammates, Estenor has been working the phones and worrying about loved ones.
"It's really stressful," he said. "We're all trying to find out information. But we can't get in touch with anyone."
In Zephyrhills, the family of 71-year-old Nelson Ryman scrambled to get him help. Ryman, who has run mission trips to Haiti for more than a decade, arrived hours before the quake hit.
He reached his wife by phone on Thursday to tell her that he had slept in a pool, had little water, no food or shelter and was running out of heart medication. He was outside Port-Au-Prince in a small village called Cabaret. Then the line went dead.
The family reached out to state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who connected them with U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite.
Thursday afternoon, Nelson Ryman called his wife again to briefly say a United Nations envoy was coming for him, but the line disconnected again.
"The worst part is just not knowing and not being able to contact him," said his son, Kevin Ryman.
Meanwhile, Rose Millien, a nurse technician at University Community Hospital in Carrollwood, has not been able to reach her 15 relatives, including her mother and siblings.
Thursday, she tearfully recalled the last conversation she had with her brother. She had called him on Jan. 2 to talk about the money she sent so he could buy New Year's gifts for the family. The line dropped, so she made a note to call her mother the next morning, but she got busy.
"I can't explain how I feel," Millien said, weeping. "I can't find anything out. I'm going crazy."
All around the country, e-mails to Haiti went mostly unanswered and phone calls would not go through. No busy signal, no beep, no ring. Just silence.
Christina Edoizin, 21, a nursing major at USF, was consumed by worry until she received a brief e-mail sent Thursday morning from her mother's cellphone.
"She let me know that everything was okay with them," Edoizin said. "I don't know anything else, but I'm just glad they're okay."
The quake, the most powerful ever to hit Haiti, devastated its capital city, giving rise to relief efforts and prayer vigils everywhere, including the Tampa Bay area. The Salvation Army planned to send help, including extra generators and satellite phones.
Todd Spinelli, who invented a toothbrush that requires no water, partnered with the newly formed Tampa Bay for Haiti Coalition to send 100,000 toothbrushes and other supplies. (For more information, visit mymangoradio.com.)
Haitian student groups at USF organized a vigil on the campus Thursday night.
Genevieve Guillaume, president of Fanm Kreyol, a student organization made up of Haitian women, lost two cousins in the disaster; several relatives still remain unaccounted for.
"We hear it all the time, over and over again, that the amount of deaths is increasing," she said. "It's a lot of hurt. It's taking a toll on us."
Times staff writers Shelley Rossetter and Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or [email protected]