Missionaries Share Horrors of Haiti Quake, Loss of Partner

Missionary Jean Arnwine died at 12:15 a.m. in Guadeloupe

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Three North Texas missionaries who survived Tuesday's massive earthquake in Haiti spoke outside Highland Park Methodist Church in Dallas on Friday, sharing stories of heroism amid horrifying recollections of buildings crumbling into chunks of concrete that pinned their co-workers beneath the rubble.

    Ten of the 12 missionaries have made it back to Texas safely. 

    The Horror, Heartbreak and Miracle for Dallas Missionaries in Haiti

    [DFW] The Horror, Heartbreak and Miracle for Dallas Missionaries in Haiti
    A group of North Texas missionaries talks about this week's massive earthquake -- and the stranger who helped save them. (Published Friday, Jan 15, 2010)

    Jean Arnwine, who suffered significant internal injuries, died shortly after midnight Friday. Arnwine was being airlifted to Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean, for surgery early Friday morning when she took a turn for the worse en route. The aircraft stopped short of the planned destination to seek medical care in Guadeloupe, another French island, where Arnwine was pronounced dead.

    Dr. Gary Fish, a Dallas ophthalmologist, is in Guadeloupe. Fish was being transported with Arnwine for treatment of possible broken ribs. He is working to bring Arnwine home.

    The other 10 missionaries, Dr. Kenneth Foree, Nancy Rice, Lila Foree, Dr. James Lehmann, Alex Paz, Marilyn French, Katy Langley, Claire Miertschin, Karen Gardner and Joel Fish, landed safely in Dallas at about 3 a.m. Friday morning on a chartered flight out of the Dominican Republic.

    "Our plane with 10 of our Haiti team members and four nurses landed in Dallas overnight, and two of our members were headed to local hospitals for treatment. They have since been released," said the HPUMC Web site.

    Seven of the missionaries are directly involved with Highland Park United Methodist Church, while the other five are with Texas Retina Associates.

    Katy Langley, who was working with a surgical team in Petit Goave, a town west of Port-au-Prince, said she and two co-workers finished early on Tuesday and began walking from the clinic to their guest quarters. Along the way, the quake hit and knocked them to ground. Unsure of what was happening and where to run, they continued on to their quarters while trying to avoid developing cracks in the Earth, crumbling buildings and collapsing ditches.

    "The road was shaking ... The road in front of us was wobbling, and all of us were trying not to fall into the ditch, because we were watching the concrete walls on the side of the ditch crumble into and onto the ground," Langley said. "And eventually, it knocked us to the ground, and we stayed there until the earthquake stopped."

    Along the way, she saw Haitians standing in the middle of the road, trying to stay away from anything that might crash down onto them, Langley said.

    "We could see what happened around us, (the) only really safe places were in the middle of the road," Langley said. "Even in the days after the initial earthquake, everybody that we saw in town, they were sleeping in the road, they were sleeping in the middle of fields, just trying to stay away from buildings and anything that might crash on top of them."

    Back at the clinic, Alex Paz was close to the end of her day and decided to take a quick break on a bench outside. A moment later, Paz said she heard screaming and what sounded like an explosion. She turned around to see the clinic crumbling to the ground with three of her co-workers, Rice, Arnwine and Gardner, still inside.

    "All of a sudden I heard everybody screaming. I didn't know what was going on yet. After all the screams, I started feeling the movement of the Earth ... And I didn't know where to run," Paz said. "I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know if it was a terrorist attack -- I didn't know, I just did not know. I guess the minute I found out maybe it was an earthquake was whenever I got up and I saw the clinic had just crumbled down."

    With dusk rapidly approaching, Paz recalls the fortuitous timing of a miner who happened to pass by with a hydraulic jack, a saw for cutting concrete and a generator for light. With the tools, the three trapped missionaries were freed from the collapsed clinic after a nearly five-hour ordeal.

    "I don't know where he came from, I don't know who called him, but he came to the right place," Paz said. "If this guy did not show up I don't think that we could have -- maybe, Nancy we could have gotten out -- but we could have not have saved Jean or Karen."

    Paz said all of their team members miraculously seemed to only have minor injuries. Unsure of the fate of their surgical team, they decided to head back to their quarters. That night, the group slept in a nearby field, safe from falling debris, while tremor after tremor rocked the Earth beneath them.

    The severity of Arnwine's injuries became evident later. Langley said they went to a nearby U.N. base Wednesday morning to try to secure an air ambulance for Arnwine, but there were none available. Arnwine did not boarded an air ambulance until Thursday night's failed trip to Martinique.

    Speaking in Dallas on Friday, Lila Foree said the tremors seemed to come about every 10 minutes Tuesday night.

    "Unfortunately, I still feel like this ground is moving," Foree said. "It's just a constant, like you get off a cruise ship or something, and you've got sea legs; you're still balancing."

    Foree said the event was indescribable.

    "A country that was once a beautiful country -- it was once called the Pearl of the Antilles, in fact -- and it is not a pretty sight," Foree said.