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Norwich Haitian ministry begins relief efforts; 2 Conn. residents rescued

By Elissa Bass

Publication: TheDay.com

Published January 13. 2010 7:05AM   Updated January 13. 2010 4:21PM
Photo submitted by the family
Jillian Thorp of Old Saybrook, seen in an undated photo from Haiti, who is the mission house's acting director with Charles Dietsch of Southbury were both rescued.

Despite having its mission house completely destroyed in Tuesday's earthquake, the Diocese of Norwich Haitian Ministries has no intention of giving up its commitment to the people of Haiti, a spokeswoman said this morning.

"We are committed to be with the Haitian people," said Emily Smack, the executive director for the Norwich Haitian Ministries. "One way or another we will be in Haiti."

The two Connecticut residents who were trapped for 10 hours in the collapsed mission house near Port-au-Prince were pulled out alive early this morning.

Jillian Thorp of Old Saybrook, the mission house's acting director, and Charles Dietsch of Southbury, were both rescued, according to Smack.
Smack said the ministry will begin organizing fund raising today. She said cash needs to be raised so that food and medicine can be purchased in the Dominican Republic and brought into Haiti.

"The airport is closed down and mobilizing and trying to containerize (donated items) ... by the time we get into Haiti all that would be of little use," Smack said. "They need medicine, food and shelter now."

Smack said now that the missionaries have been rescued, "our next thing to do is find out what's happened to our partners, the orphanages we support and the schoolchildren and the feeding programs. All of those take place in extremely adverse areas, so it will be a while before the dust settles."

Smack said the ministry's three-story building was totally destroyed, and everyone is "camping out in the driveway right now." She said the two injured Americans will be evacuated to the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince today.

"I talked to Jill just a little while ago," Smack said this morning. Thorp and Dietsch were in the basement of the building when the earthquake hit.

"A male guard came and heard them banging on the metal and concrete and he went and got the others and they dug by hand," she said.

"We have four Haitian staff men who, once they knew their families were OK, they came back to that mission house to dig our staff out," Smack said.

Jillian Thorp's husband Frank is also in Haiti. He was about 100 miles away when the earthquake hit, Smack said, which is about a six-hour drive.

"He immediately hopped in a car and caught up with a group of medical students and brought them to the mission house," Smack said. "The miracle is, just as they were reaching Jill (in the rubble), her husband got there and he was actually the person who pulled her out."

Smack said Jillian Thorp "sounded remarkably good. She is badly bruised, cut up, lots of muscle pulls, and Chuck may have broken a leg and possibly some ribs."

A third person in the house at the time of the collapse, a Haitian housekeeper named Lanite, was pulled out alive but is in critical condition. Ministry spokeswoman Kyn Tolson said Lanite may have lost both her legs.

Smack said another Haitian employee at the mission, the daytime guard, remains unaccounted for.

The Norwich-based ministry workers are able to communicate with those on the island through the Internet, on Skype. Regular communication with Haiti is not possible.

Smack said she has been working the phones and been on Skype non-stop since she first got word of the catastrophe at 5 p.m., Tuesday. She went to New York City first thing this morning to be interviewed on the network news shows about the dramatic rescue of Thorp and Dietsch.

While they are working to get help to the island, it is an emotional time for the local ministry workers.

"We were just saying the other day that last year was so horrible (for Haiti), they had those five hurricanes right in a row, bam, bam, bam, and it was just devastating," Smack said, her voice welling with emotion. "Then we had the school collapse.

"This year, things seemed calm, road construction had started, the government was stable. And it's just like, if you let your guard down, I just don't know what to say ... They are not equipped to help, there is no major infrastructure to help these people. It's discouraging on one hand, but we have to stand with them, they are our brothers and sisters."

ivilians cannot get into Haiti, as the airport tower was destroyed and the airport is closed. More Connecticut residents were scheduled to go to Haiti next week and in early February with the Norwich mission. Smack said those plans are on hold.

"One thing we don't want to do is add to the confusion," she said. "We want to be helpful, not add to the chaos."

Retired Navy Rear Adm. Frank Thorp said his 24-year-old daughter-in-law had been living in Haiti since August when she took the lead at the mission house, which works with orphans and children with HIV. Before moving there, Jillian had traveled to Haiti several times with her family to participate in humanitarian work, he said.

"She's a superstar," he said of Jillian's devotion to aid work.

Thorp was hired as director of the mission house in September. Dietsch was expected to work with the mission for the next six months.

Smack said she learned of the collapse at the mission house in a call from another Connecticut resident in Haiti, Devon Root, a nurse at the Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation's clinic in the small town of Jeremie, far from the earthquake zone. Even so, Root told Smack that the clinic shook. Root is a friend of Jillian Thorp and had spoken to Thorp after the earthquake struck.

Frank Thorp said he has been pleased with the U.S. response by the military and State Department, who are aware of the location of the mission house and "who continue to assure us they are doing everything they can."

The State Department has set up a hotline for those seeking more information at 1-888-407-4747.

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How you can help

Log onto www.haitianministries.org for information about how to make a donation to help the Haitian earthquake survivors.

Call the Diocese of Norwich Haitian Ministries at or 860-638-1018, or 860-848-2237 ext. 206.

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