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Making connections amid chaos: Learning loved ones' fates

By Wayne Drash, CNN
The earthquake in Haiti has left tens of thousands wandering the streets, while loved ones wait to hear from them.
The earthquake in Haiti has left tens of thousands wandering the streets, while loved ones wait to hear from them.
  • Family connections are sometimes made with breathtaking speed
  • One woman learns her sister is still alive after her photo is seen by a man in Haiti
  • For others, the wait is anguishing
  • One family initially told daughter was rescued, but it wasn't true

(CNN) -- Punctuating the scenes of heroic rescue and devastating death in Haiti is another drama: moments of connection.

A man in Haiti identifies a woman he sees on the street as the missing person whose photo is posted on CNN's iReport. A husband reels off the names of missing college students and a stranger hundreds of miles away confirms they are safe.

It is a scenario being played out again and again. Somehow, desperate pleas relayed mouth-to-mouth, through the Internet, on television and in text messages become fodder for celebration with the confirmation: They're alive.

iReporter Wolin Delerme sent in a frantic video about her sister who had left for Haiti on Monday, a day before the 7.0-magnitude quake struck. Minutes after her plea aired on CNN, a man in Haiti contacted her.

"He saw my sister not too far from where he's standing," Delerme said.

Watch Delerme describe the amazing connection with her missing sister

Choking back tears, she said, "I am very overwhelmed, and full of joy in my heart. There's just no words that can explain it. I am just so happy." She has since spoken with her sister.

Video: iReporter's sister found
Video: iReport: Finding the lost
Gallery: Devastation from Haiti earthquake
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Kristy Springer sought information on her mother and several church members who were in Haiti on a missionary trip. "I am here waiting for you mom. You need to be OK," Springer told iReport.

Her mother sent a text message at 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Everyone was "at least safe for now."

See how Springer found her mom

iReporter Darius Hyworon found similar good news. His wife, Mariah Levin, was with a group of Tufts University students in Haiti at the time. In the quake's aftermath, he scrambled to learn their fate. The U.S. Embassy was able to tell him everyone is OK.

Read Hyworon's words of thanks

"Thank you for those who helped in the effort," he said. "Please pray for the millions of people who are affected by this tragedy."

iReport: Are you looking for loved ones?

Much of Haiti's infrastructure crumbled during the quake, knocking out power and other communication networks, further hampering people's efforts to get word of missing relatives and friends.

Mark Frohardt is heading to Haiti with two "radio suitcases," mobile communication devices with a range of about 30 miles that can tap into radio waves. A veteran of disaster efforts in the 2004 tsunami and the 2008 Pakistan quake, Frohardt hopes to disseminate critical information about humanitarian efforts over the radio in Haiti. As of Friday, 13 radio stations were up and running.

"Part of that is 'family tracing,' " he said, "working with organizations and radio stations on getting the word out -- who's alive and getting messages back to loved ones."

iReport: I'm alive -- messages from Haiti

There is no confirmed death toll from the earthquake. Bodies litter the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and barely functioning clinics are overwhelmed with injured. Survivors wander the streets.

For loved ones seeking information on the missing, the wait is anguishing. Sometimes the answers that come are not reliable.

Len Gengel and his wife have endured a parent's worst nightmare. Their daughter Brittany was visiting Haiti with a group of students from Lynn University in Florida.

The parents were initially told their daughter survived. Upon reaching South Florida for what they thought was going to be a reunion, the parents learned the original information was wrong. Brittany was still missing, along with three other students and two professors.

On Monday, Gengel spoke to Kenneth Merten, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, on CNN "We need American soldiers up there rescuing our children now," Gengel said. "Time is of the essence. I beg you." Merten said he would do all he could.

Read an iReporter's list of people reported to be safe

The International Committee of the Red Cross has set up a Web site for people trying to find information on the fate of relatives in Haiti. However, inside Haiti, the Red Cross has not been able to collect and publish identities and whereabouts of survivors.

Frohardt, a vice president for Internews Network, hopes to help change that.

"The focus," he says, is "connecting the community so they know where all their loved ones are."

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