For Angela Simpson, the television images are hard to watch.
And hard not to.
Every phone call puts the household on edge. As Haiti reels in the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake, she waits in the hope that someone, somehow, will get her word on the whereabouts of her adopted son, Emarc, an 18-year-old native of Haiti who was back on the island when the quake hit.
She’s also hoping for good news about a young Haitian girl she and her husband, Brian, are about to adopt, and about the parents of two other children they have adopted from Haiti over the past six years.
“I’m speechless,” she said. “I can’t even speak about it.”
Tuesday’s magnitude 7.0 earthquake has claimed thousands of lives and created widespread devastation in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince. Landlines and telecommunications networks were destroyed, along with the power networks, and cell phone coverage has been spotty, according to news reports.
The Simpsons have tried without success to reach the orphanage in Petionville where they adopted three children – and where they have a current adoption pending.
“I’ve called over 200 times,” she said. “Day and night.”
Petionville is a suburb of Port-au-Prince, near the quake’s epicenter. There is no official word on the orphanage or the children, but she’s heard scattered bits of information on Facebook and from others with connections there.
“We’ve heard rumors that all the children (in the orphanage) were OK, which hopefully includes my daughter,” she said.
Like most U.S. families who adopt Haitian children, the Simpsons have already met 11-year-old Elvanie – who is Emarc’s sister – and her family, though her adoption is not quite final. Simpson is trying to contact the State Department to see about a humanitarian visa for the girl, fearing that the adoption paperwork is lost forever. She also is trying to make sure the government has Emarc on lists of American citizens who are missing.
The quake has thrown adoptive U.S. families like the Simpsons into chaos. Many are mired in a desperate search to find how their children are faring. Some fear that paperwork, which can take months or years to finalize, may be lost in the rubble, stalling their adoptions for good.
Adoptions from Haiti make up a fraction of international adoptions to the United States each year, but the number has been growing steadily as countries such as China and Guatemala have slowed or closed international adoptions. The U.S. State Department issued 330 immigrant visas to Haitian children last year, up from 96 in 1999.
In the eyes of the Haitian government, many of those waiting to bring children home are already legal parents. Adoptions are finalized in Haiti, but it can still take months for final approval to bring the children home to the United States.
The Simpsons have been working with the Petionville orphanage, the Haitian Children’s Rescue Mission, for six years. In addition to their adopted children, they have four biological children.
“It’s kind of our passion,” she said. “And I love the Haitian people.”
In addition to Emarc, who they adopted at age 16, they have two other Haitian children: Christelle, 9, and Eckahelo, 8. Their biological children are Mackenzie, 13, Dane, 9, Kobe, 7, and Lucy, 2.
Simpson said she hopes U.S. troops, aid workers and others might bring satellite phones and other communications devices to help people there get the word to their loved ones outside the country. In the meantime, she’s trying to find what scraps she can about Emarc, Elvanie and others – when she can bear to watch it.
“I watched (TV coverage) all day yesterday, and then about 4 o’clock it was just too much,” she said. “It is overwhelming for me to watch.”