Two groups of Fargo-Moorhead volunteers in a Haiti village about 60 miles from the earthquake-stricken capital Port-Au-Prince were safe Tuesday.
Fifteen doctors and nurses from the area are in Haiti on an annual trip to perform cleft palate and other surgeries in the mountainous village of Pignon. About a dozen volunteers from Moorhead's Trinity Lutheran Church are helping with a school repair project in the same village.
Kevin Wallevand, a WDAY-TV reporter and the spokesman for the F-M Haiti Medical Mission, said participants contacted him via text message to let him know they're OK.
"They're safe," said Wallevand, who's traveled with the mission each January for the past 12 years. "They felt the earthquake, but they are fine."
Wallevand was in Miami on Tuesday looking for a way to get to Haiti after his American Airlines flight today was canceled.
Tom Fiebiger of Fargo said it was only a tense 20 minutes between hearing the news and getting a reassuring e-mail from his wife, Siri, a Fargo Innovis Health ob-gyn and veteran of the medical mission.
"They had some aftershocks in Pignon, but everybody's fine," Fiebiger confirmed, adding his wife has cultivated a deep attachment to the country and its people.
After a four-hour drive, Craig Hagen of Moorhead had just checked into a Virginia, Minn., hotel on business when he got a call from a worried friend. His wife, LeRoyce, is with the Trinity group in Pignon.
He went to his room, watched the footage of Port-au-Prince destruction for a few minutes, checked out of the hotel and headed back home: "The last place I wanted to be was in a hotel by myself."
About halfway back to Moorhead, his wife called him on his cell phone to tell him she was safe. It sounded like the village was spared by the disaster.
"I think they're oblivious to the devastation in Portau-Prince," said Hagen, adding the group only gets a few daily hours of electricity from a generator.
Wallevand said he's seen firsthand the shoddy construction work witnesses were blaming Tuesday for what was expected to be a large number of casualties in the 7.0 earthquake. A home in Pignon had collapsed before a previous visit to the village.
Wallevand said logistics would determine if the Fargo-Moorhead volunteers might in some way lend a hand in the crisis. He said travel along a potholestrewn road to the capital is time-consuming and dangerous.
Most of the local travelers are scheduled to return stateside Friday and Saturday, Fiebiger said, and it's not clear what the disaster will mean for their departure plans.
"You have to hold the people of Haiti in your prayers," he said. "It's really a mess."