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Haitian Ministries workers rescued, but agency's mission just beginning

As it was learning that two of its workers had been rescued, the Diocese of Norwich Haitian Ministries began raising money Wednesday to help the victims of Tuesday's earthquake.

"One way or another we will be in Haiti," said Emily Smack, the group's executive director.

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

Jillian Thorp, 23, of Old Saybrook, the mission house's acting director, and Charles Dietsch of Southbury were rescued.

Smack said cash needs to be raised so that food and medicine can be purchased in the Dominican Republic and taken 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 destroyed and everyone is "camping out in the driveway right now."

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," Smack 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."

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

"He immediately hopped in a car and caught up with a group of medical students and brought them to the mission house," she 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," she said.

Jillian Thorp's parents, Clay and Karen Cook of Old Saybrook, said Wednesday afternoon that their daughter is in the American embassy and reported to be doing well. She told her parents in a call home, "I am pretty shredded." But when asked about returning to Connecticut, she said, "I can't leave. I have to stay and help."

Clay Cook said American Airlines, for which Frank Thorp works, has already offered the family free transportation to Haiti to reunite with their daughter.

"Ours is a happy story," said Cook. "But any help, any contributions to the Red Cross … "

His wife finished his thought: "Our baby is safe but there are so many babies [in Haiti] that are not. We hope people will give."

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, remained unaccounted for.

Smack said she had been working the phones and been on the Internet program Skype non-stop since 5 p.m. Tuesday. She appeared on network news morning shows about the dramatic rescue of Thorp and Dietsch.

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."

Health clinic survives

Marilyn Lowney, executive director of the Haitian Health Foundation in Norwich, has had limited contact through e-mail with staff at the foundation's clinic in Jeremie, an isolated city of 31,000 people 115 miles west of Port-au-Prince.

Lowney said the clinic, which employs some of the foundation's 200 employees in Haiti, survived the quake and is using gas-powered generators. But she feared for poor people's houses in Jeremie, which are often rusted-tin roof shacks made of bits of scrap wood and banana leaves.

"Tropical winds can knock them down," Lowney said. "Even when it rains, families are huddled in a corner."

Lowney said clinic staff reported the ground shook for about 20 seconds and that there were several aftershocks.

The foundation has received hundreds of e-mails from people from as far away as California and Canada, all asking how they can help.

"There's been such love and concern," she said.

Civilians 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."

Becky Coffey of the Harbor News contributed to this


To donate through the Diocese of Norwich Haitian Ministries log onto or call 860-638-1018 or 860-848-2237 ext. 206.

To donate to the Haitian Health Foundation call 860-886-4357 or log on to

Norwich Public Schools runs an annual penny drive in February. This year, the 14 schools will start early with the "Pennies for Haiti" drive. Students and staff are asked to bring pennies to school. Classes will tally totals, make charts and track their progress. In past years, the drive has raised $8,000 to $10,000.

New London Public Schools will be collecting international phone cards for families to use once communications in Haiti are restored.

The First Haitian Baptist Church set up a savings account at the Chelsea Groton Bank so people who want to donate to the relief effort can do so at any of the bank branches.

InterAction, a coalition of U.S.-based international non-governmental organizations, has a list of agencies responding and how to donate to them. Find it at

To donate $10 to the American Red Cross, text Haiti to 90999. The amount will be added to your next phone bill. The organization is also accepting donations through its International Response Fund,

To donate $5 to Wyclef Jean's Haitian Yele charity, text 501501. The money will be added to your next phone bill.

To find out how to help the International Rescue Committee, visit or call toll free, 1-877-REFUGEE.

To donate through Oxfam's emergency appeal, visit


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