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KANDAHAR - Haitian-American Lieutenant Ramses Brunache was supposed to be the one in danger in Afghanistan. Now his sister is dead, his homeland is broken and he's trying to return to help save Haiti.
Brunache found out about the earthquake in a 3am phone call from his wife at the base where he's stationed in dusty Kandahar province. He's been here since July as a communications officer with the 97th Military Police Battalion out of Fort Riley, Kansas.
"She told me something happened in Haiti and my sister is not going to make it," Brunache said.
His wife lives in Atlanta and the only information she had was from a text message saying that his sister, Immacula, and her three young daughters had been inside their house in Port-au-Prince when it collapsed. Her 12-year-old son was the only one who made it out.
Brunache went straight to the base's Internet cafe and spent hours scouring news sites for details. He watched the death toll rise from hundreds to thousands. Estimates of the dead from Tuesday's magnitude-7 quake now regularly top 100000.
Brunache tried to call his mother in Haiti, but couldn't get through. The line was always busy. Eventually a brother got through and told him that his mother was fine.
Brunache thought of taking emergency leave, but said he couldn't stand going back to Atlanta and not being able to get to Haiti or help.
At 40 and with 11 years of military service he wanted to be there, doing something. So he asked his superior officers if they could get him to Haiti, even if for a month or two. "I would like to help as many people as possible. If I have to pick up debris, I can do that."
His brother, also based in Afghanistan, is trying to get reassigned as well.
Brunache grew up in the poor Port-au-Prince suburb of Carrefour with his American mother and Haitian father. He moved to the US in 1998 and joined the military soon after. He helped clean up Hurricane Katrina before being deployed to Kuwait, and then to Afghanistan.
Many of his friends and extended family members are still unaccounted for. It took four days for authorities to find the bodies of his sister and her daughters.
"We tried to send money to bury them but there was no way to do that," he said.
The hardest part was not having been there when it happened. Maybe if he had, he could have rescued some of them. - Sapa-AP