Raleigh, N.C. — For Kellee Metty, Haiti is like a second home. Family members said she met her husband there and has continued to go back on mission trips.
Metty and three others had just arrived in Haiti when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the area on Tuesday causing massive destruction and killing thousands.
“I always am a little apprehensive when she goes off on one of her treks somewhere and I just said, ‘Be careful,’” Janice Brackett said.
Metty’s father, Jim Brackett said his daughter contacted him on Wednesday to let him know that she and the others were safe.
The State Department Operations Center has set up the following number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti: 1-888-407-4747.
Metty organized this latest trip with two of her friends from King's Park International Church in Durham, Linda Graham and Lisa Lewis. Metty's dentist in Raleigh, Julia Zervos, also went.
They are volunteering at the Christianville Foundation orphanage.
The women are among the more than 20 North Carolina residents that were in Haiti when the poor Caribbean nation experienced its strongest earthquake in more than 200 years.
At Horne United Methodist Church in Clayton, thoughts and prayers are with a mission team that includes members of their church, who survived the earthquake.
Congregation member Helen Little, 79, is on her 43rd mission trip to Haiti.
“I told her she was Mother Theresa with an attitude. I think that describes her because I think she’s definitely a saint,” said UMC Senior Pastor Alan Swartz.
Little has helped build orphanages for children and offer hope to the people of Haiti for the last 30 years.
Will Crabtree, 17, traveled with Little on a mission trip to Haiti last summer.
“It was a great experience, but the poverty down there is unimaginable,” Crabtree said.
On Wednesday, Crabtree, a senior at Clayton High School, helped sort clothes and other supplies the church is collecting to send to Haiti.
Little and her team members Linda Mitchell and Joan Gregg from Epworth UMC in Durham and Darlene Lee, Steve Wales and Ann Collier from Whitley Memorial in Smithfield, are safe, but the congregation is concerned about another member who remains unheard from.
Rev. Dr. Sam Dixon, a clergy member of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and head of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, was in Haiti at the time of the quake.
Officials said Dixon was on his way to the airport in Port-Au-Prince when the earthquake occurred.
“I just hope Sam is at a location now where he can’t get messages out,” UMC Conference spokesman Bill Norton said.
Three women from First Christian Church in Roanoke Rapids were on a mission trip with Lifeline Christian Mission when the quake hit. A group leader named Gretchen has been e-mailing updates about their condition.
All members are accounted for, she said, but some have been injured. Most of the injuries were believed to be minor, but one woman might have suffered broken ribs when a piece of a wall fell on her.
Gwen Whiteman works with the local office of Hearts with Haiti, a Cincinnati-based charity group that runs three homes for poor and disabled children in the island nation.
The earthquake damaged two of the homes and destroyed the third. Whiteman said the children and founder are safe, but a staffer was hurt.
“We're very worried about him and eagerly awaiting word that he's going to be alright,” Whiteman said.
Thousands feared dead, many trapped
Haiti's leaders struggled to comprehend the extent of the catastrophe even as aftershocks still reverberated.
"It's incredible," President Rene Preval told CNN. "A lot of houses destroyed, hospitals, schools, personal homes. A lot of people in the street dead. ... I'm still looking to understand the magnitude of the event and how to manage.
Preval said thousands of people were probably killed. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, but conceded that nobody really knows.
"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval said.
Haiti seems especially prone to catastrophe - from natural disasters like hurricanes, storms, floods and mudslides to crushing poverty, unstable governments, poor building standards and low literacy rates.
The international Red Cross said a third of the country's 9 million people may need emergency aid, a burden that would test any nation and a crushing catastrophe for impoverished Haiti.
President Barack Obama promised an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort and American officials said they were responding with ships, helicopters, transport planes and a 2,000-member Marine unit, as well as civilian emergency teams from across the U.S.
"We have to be there for them in their hour of need," Obama said.
The first C-130 plane carrying part of a military assessment team arrived in Haiti, the U.S. Southern Command said.
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson, was expected to arrive off the coast of Haiti on Thursday. More U.S. Navy ships were under way as well, the U.S. Southern Command said.
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter evacuated four critically injured U.S. Embassy staff to the hospital on the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the military has been detaining suspected terrorists.
A small contingent of U.S. ground troops could be on their way soon, although it was unclear whether they would be used for security operations or humanitarian efforts.