American Couple Recounts Haiti Quake Terror

Former NBC4 intern, wife tell tale of rescue in Haiti

By Sharon Donnell
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 10:12 AM EDT
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Frank and Jillian Thorp

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A Virginia aid worker makes a dash across earthquake-struck Haiti to rescue his wife from under a collapsed building.
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American missionaries Jillian and Frank Thorp are safely back in the U.S., just days after the couple lived through the horror of Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti. They recounted their experience Friday morning on NBC’s "Today."

 
Jillian Thorp got trapped in the wreckage of the mission house that serves as the headquarters of the Haitian Ministries for the Diocese of Norwich, Conn., the mission for which the Thorps work. Jillian was in a meeting with co-worker Charles Dietsch when the house started to shake.
 
“I said to Chuck, 'What is that?' and he said, 'It's an earthquake,' and he pulled us into a doorway and within 20 to 30 seconds we were buried,” Jillian Thorp recalled. “Chuck was completely pinned but I had movement of my legs and my arms, but there wasn't really anyplace to go.”
 
Thorp and Dietsch soon realized they were running out of oxygen.
 
“I just thought, ‘OK, I'm 23 and I’m going to die and I'll just run out of oxygen and hopefully just fall asleep and at least I'm not suffering too much," Jillian said. But once we started hearing people around us and they started moving some of the rubble and we saw light and we had oxygen -- then the game was on to try to survive as long as we could.”
 
Her husband, Frank, a former NBC4 intern, was about 100 miles away when the quake struck. When he learned of the quake’s severity, he drove through the night to reach his wife. He arrived at the Mission House to a grim sight: the building had pancaked.
 
"It was the scariest thing that I have ever seen. I didn't expect the whole building to have collapsed,” Frank said. “It looked like it would be impossible for somebody to survive.”
 
The Thorps’ Haitian colleagues managed to dig a hole in the roof of the building to try to reach Jillian and Dietsch. They’d been digging seven hours when Frank Thorp arrived.
 
“I was able to go down and say I loved her,” he said. “It was just, it was really scary."
 
Eventually, he and the other rescuers were able to pull both of the trapped workers out of the wreckage.
 
Jillian described her injuries as “pretty minor” -- mostly scrapes and lacerations. The couple had only been back in the states for fourteen hours when they appeared on "Today."
 
“I think we’re holding up pretty good,” Frank said.
 
Asked about any possible return to Haiti, Jillian said, “As soon as we can.”
 
Her husband agreed.
 
“We were so lucky to be able to get out alive," he said. "We're just really looking forward to getting back and helping.”

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