By Andy Jasner, for NBA.com
Posted Jan 13 2010 7:29PM
PHILADELPHIA -- Samuel Dalembert arrived at the Wachovia Center on Wednesday to do what he's paid to do -- play professional basketball for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Getting mentally and emotionally ready to play on this particular occasion had to be one of the hardest tasks ever completed by Dalembert. He's still reeling from Tuesday's horrific news that hundreds of thousands of people are reported dead after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake decimated his home country of Haiti.
The pictures on television are bone-chilling: dead bodies lying in the street, buildings crumpled to the ground and overall shots of mass destruction. The views of his country are almost surreal.
"It's so tough because I'm here and there hasn't been much I can do," Dalembert said. "I've been trying to reach family, friends and other people to know to see if they're OK. But Haiti isn't like here. Getting a hold of people isn't always that easy. Knowing what has happened, it's even harder. I basically feel helpless."
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Dalembert found out about the tragic occurrence after a friend left a message on his cell phone Tuesday afternoon.
Thankfully, he learned via e-mail that his father is alive. Dalembert also has a 16-year-old sister and a 15-year-old brother along with a number of other relatives. His grandmother, Hypromene Charle, mother and another sister live in Florida.
Dalembert was able to speak to his grandmother, who helped raise him after moving to Montreal at the age of 14.
"My grandmother is so upset and I'm worried about her," said Dalembert, who hails from Port-au-Prince. "I couldn't calm her down. I don't blame her. There is so much damage done in our country. It's terrible. All we can do now is try and help as much as possible and get the information as it comes in."
The earthquake hit at 4:53 p.m. ET and was centered 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince at a depth of five miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. One geophysicist called it the strongest earthquake since 1770 in Haiti.
"We are such a hard-working people," Dalembert said. "We have faced disasters before like hurricane after hurricane. These people will get through it. But this earthquake was so awful. I just feel like I'm helpless here. I'll do whatever possible to help out these people. They'll get through this, but it's going to take a long, long time."
He founded the Samuel Dalembert Foundation in 2007, which teams with UNICEF, the Red Cross and Feed the Children to assist relief efforts in Haiti. Dalembert has also been active in helping to build a training facility and a school in Haiti called the Dalembert Academy.
That project will surely be put on hold while the country rebuilds.
"I went back home last summer and was very encouraged by what I saw," said Dalembert, who is in his eighth season with the Sixers. "The people had hope and promise. This will be tough to come back from. These people are so tough. I know they'll rebound. I want to help in every way imaginable."
Dalembert was born in Haiti in 1980 and moved to Montreal during most of his teenage years. He is fluent in Creole, French and English and enjoys citizenship in Haiti and Canada.
Despite earning millions of dollars (he's in the second-to-last year of a $64 million contract), Dalembert grew up quite poor.
He recalls playing soccer with his friends where no one had shoes. The ball was a pile of crumpled paper. When they were thirsty, they had to share one little bucket of water.
"We were happy kids," Dalembert said. "We just went out and played soccer and we didn't worry about money or things like that. We were just kids."
Now, Dalembert is worried about the devastation in Haiti. Not being able to reach people is beyond frustrating.
"I know that everything humanly possible is being done," said Dalembert. "I'm at the top of the list in trying to help."
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