USC Aiken student fears for family in Haiti

AIKEN --- Edison Couba said he dreams that by the time his son Evan is a man he can visit Haiti and be proud.


His firstborn's arrival is still a week away.

His birth will come two weeks after the horrific earthquake that left Couba's father and 2 million others homeless and an estimated 200,000 people dead. An uncle and three cousins have still not been found.

"I spend every waking moment watching CNN," the North Augusta man said Thursday. "It's been extremely difficult balancing school, work and a son on the way. You just have to believe. You just have to pray that good will come out of this."

The 21-year-old Naples, Fla., native and his wife, Denise, have stayed in close contact with his mother, who lives in Orlando, Fla. For days, Couba did not hear a word from his 69-year-old father, who had just recovered from the hurricane that hit Delma, Haiti, a suburb of Port-Au-Prince, in 2008.

"We sent him beans, boxes of rice, clothes and shoes. They had just gotten to the point where they felt stable," he said. "He is happy to be alive. On the other hand, they're still recovering bodies, and he doesn't have a home."

Couba said his father is staying with a friend for now.

He fears the worst for his mother's brother, Awale Augustin, who worked as a cab driver. His daughter died less than a year ago.

"He had a very tough year, and he's a very warm-hearted person," Couba said. "All we can do is wait. I get text messages from the family. I just hope that if he's not alive we can find his body for a proper burial."

The junior at the University of South Carolina Aiken said the faculty and classmates have been very kind. Couba is in his first semester as a pre-dental major.

"They have really rallied behind me," he said. "This has been the best experience I've had at a school."

His wife has been his main support, with his parents, grandmother and seven siblings hundreds of miles away, he said.

Denise Couba said her husband's strong family roots have helped him withstand the bad news over the past week. She met him when she was a freshman at an Orlando high school. In her freshman year of college, she moved back to her hometown of North Augusta to help with her ailing grandmother.

Two years ago, Couba moved to North Augusta, and they married.

"He's extremely strong-willed. I don't know what I would do if I was that far away from my family," she said. "His grandmother was a community activist, and she always encouraged him to give back and be compassionate. That's what he's doing."

Couba said he plans to go help his family in the summer. He said he hopes Haitians will join together in this time of crisis, stop the infighting and bring peace to his family's native land.

As he eagerly awaits his son's birth, he imagines how Haiti will be in his lifetime.

"I'm hoping years from now, when my son grows up, he can go to the country," Couba said. "I would like for him to see drivable roads, clean water, schools and strong buildings, the basics we take for granted."

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A specially trained disaster medicine vaccination team based in Augusta was en route to Atlanta on Friday night to help prepare those heading to Haiti for relief efforts.

The five members of the Georgia-4 Disaster Medical Assistance Team will likely be at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to immunize those bound for Haiti.

The team, sponsored by the Medical College of Georgia, has been specially trained in mass vaccinations. Those going to Haiti need to have hepatitis B and tetanus shots, but shots against hepatitis C, typhoid and the pandemic influenza A H1N1 virus are recommended, according to the team.

The immunizations will continue throughout the weekend, team commander Jane Williams said in a news release.

-- Tom Corwin, staff writer