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Haitians in Boston send prayers after earthquake

Marie Forestal, who has family in Haiti, cried as she sang along during a hymn at a Mass celebrated by the Rev. Garcia Breneville at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Mattapan.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Marie Forestal of Mattapan heard the news about what had happened to her family in Camp-Perrin, Haiti Saturday when a relative living in the United States got a text message.

“My brother lost his house,” Forestal said Sunday. “And my niece got hurt, and my brother got hurt. Not too bad, because they tried to run. My niece fell and hurt her leg. But they’re OK, my family’s OK.”

A lot has happened in Haiti recently, she said.

Just in the past month, Haiti’s leader was assassinated, the country suffered the devastating 7.2 magnitude earthquake Saturday that had left nearly 1,300 people dead as of Sunday evening, and it is facing an impending tropical storm forecast to lash it in the next few days.

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Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated July 7. Saturday’s earthquake brought terrible reminders of the one that hit Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010 at a magnitude of 7.0. The Haitian government estimated about 222,570 people died then, though some estimates put the death toll at more than 300,000.

And Tropical Depression Grace is expected to reach the country between Monday and Tuesday, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

On Sunday afternoon Forestal came to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish on Blue Hill Avenue, to sit under the arched ceilings and listen to the Mass, celebrated in Haitian Creole in a church full of masked congregants looking for hope.

“I pray for them, so God is going to help them,” Forestal said after the service. “Because Haiti needs help from God. Only God can do something for them. But we pray. We pray. That’s all we can do.”

As of late Sunday afternoon, the head of Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency confirmed at least 724 people had died and 2,800 people were injured. The quake’s epicenter was near Petit Trou de Nippes, about 78 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the nation’s capital. Officials reported heavy damage in Les Cayes and Jeremie, two coastal cities about 40 miles apart on Haiti’s southern peninsula.

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The area is less densely populated than Port-au-Prince, but also more remote, said Jerry Chandler, head of Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency. Rescue workers had a hard time reaching some areas because roads and bridges were not accessible. In a press conference Sunday, Chandler said thousands of homes and a hotel had collapsed.

“These are difficult times. Let’s forget our quarrels. Let’s forget about anything else — let’s help the poorest and most needy people,” Prime Minister Ariel Henry said Sunday.

In Mattapan, the Rev. Garcia Breneville pointed out that the earthquake struck on the day many Haitians celebrate the vigil of the Assumption of Mary. Though Catholics worldwide typically mark the feast on Aug. 15, many in Haiti also celebrate the day before. It’s usually a joyous occasion, Breneville said. People go to church, or the beach, or throw parties to celebrate.

Breneville, who spent 17 years of his priesthood in Haiti, said people he had spoken with in Boston were in shock that another major earthquake would hit the country only 11 years after the 2010 earthquake.

“The question is now, what is happening to Haiti? Do we have a curse on this country, where nothing can work in this country?” Breneville said between Mass celebrations Sunday. “It’s challenging for a priest, to lead your people into such challenges. People are asking many questions, especially the kids, and the young. And then sometimes you don’t know what to say. Because you, too, you have the same problems. But you also have to be the pastor, to guide them. You cannot be down. You have to bring hope, so say can hope against all hope. We have to hope. And the nearer the dawn, the darker the night.”

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In the coming weeks, Breneville said, the church will likely organize a vigil or fund-raiser for people affected by the earthquake. It may take some time to coordinate, he said.

“Right now it’s too fresh,” Breneville said.

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.


Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at gal.lotan@globe.com or at 617-929-2043.