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Video: ‘I’m going to die’: Missionary recalls rescue

  1. Closed captioning of: ‘I’m going to die’: Missionary recalls rescue

    >>> we're back at 8:10 with an incredible story of survival from haiti we first brought you on wednesday. jillian thorp, an american missionary, was buried in the rubble of a collapsed mission house for about ten hours before her husband and some haitian workers freed her from the debris. this morning, the thorps are back in the u.s. we'll talk to them in a moment, but first, their remarkable tale. this is the pile of rubble that covered jillian thorp for ten hours. on tuesday she was inside the haitian ministry's mission house when the earthquake hit. in a matter of seconds, the mission went from this to this. jillian 's husband, frank , drove eight hours to reach her. he got there in time to pull her from the rubble.

    >> they dug a hole through the concrete ceiling of this house where they were caught, and we went in, and i pulled her out. it was such a relief to get her out. it was an extremely emotional time.

    >> once jillian was safe, frank took his video camera back to the scene of the devastation. you can see the hole he dug with rescuers to free his wife. this big box is what saved her. it created just enough space for jillian to survive.

    >> we're still at the mission house .

    >> in his footage, it looks like frank is walking on cement, but that's actually the roof of the mission house pancaked down after the collapse. debris is all that remains. a paint can, file cabinets, an envelope with jillian 's name. but frank thorp says the mission work will go on. chuck deech was trapped inside the rubble with jillian . he made his way home to his wife in connecticut on thursday night.

    >> today is our wedding anniversary and i couldn't be more thankful. when i think of all the things that might have happened, you know, the other outcomes, i'm blessed.

    >> and jillian and frank thorp join us now. good morning to both of you.

    >> good morning, matt.

    >> good morning, matt.

    >> i know you've only been back in the states for about 14 hours now. how are you guys holding up?

    >> i think we're holding up pretty good. we're just trying to readjust to the situation being back in the states, dealing with the wounds, especially with jillian physically and mentally as well.

    >> yeah. jillian , talk to me little bit. i know frank , when we spoke on the phone, said your legs were pretty banged up, pinned in that rubble. can you tell me the extent of your injuries?

    >> i'm very lucky, matt. my injuries are pretty minor. i have just scrapes and a couple lacerations on my leg and one on my back.

    >> take me back, jillian , to when this quake struck. where exactly were you and what do you remember from those terrifying seconds?

    >> i had just come down from the second level. i was having a meeting with my co-worker, chuck, who was stuck with me, and the house started to shake, and 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.

    >> can you describe, jillian , for me the space you found yourself in? were you completely pinned? were you able to move at all?

    >> i was able to move. we were in a, we estimate a three by five area. there were plywoods that had created this tent for us that was protecting us. chuck was completely pinned, but i had movement of my legs and my arms, but there wasn't really anyplace to go, so we just tried to make the best of it.

    >> frank , you are some 100 miles away when all this happens. you find out about the severity of the quake, and obviously, your thoughts are with jillian , so you jump in a car and you start to head there. when you saw the building, because you knew what it looked like beforehand, and when you saw the condition of that building, did you allow yourself to think that she might not get out of there alive?

    >> yeah, of course -- well, yeah. it was the scariest thing that i have ever seen. you -- i didn't expect the whole building to have collapsed. and when we got there, it looked like it would be impossible for somebody to survive. and i mean, i got there, and the whole complex is walled in, it's gated, but the walls had just collapsed. and so, i climbed over and saw the house, and it was just -- it was just terrifying. so, i ran over and -- i mean, you know, the workers, jillian 's co-workers, the haitian co-workers had been working for seven hours to dig this hole in the roof of this building. so, by the time i had gotten there, most of the work had been done and i was able to go down and say i loved her and just to see her hand, and it was just -- it was really scary.

    >> jillian , what did you focus on for those eight or ten hours? i mean, you know, you have seen the coverage of stories like this in the past. you know there are people who simply don't get out of situations like that.

    >> yeah. when it first happened and we realized that we didn't have oxygen, i just thought, okay, 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. 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 and survive as long as we could.

    >> we were so concerned about you both, because i think as we mentioned on the air, frank , you were an intern and a researcher here at nbc and spent some time with me in south africa , and jillian , we actually have even a picture of you as part of one of our "where in the world" shows in south africa . you've traveled all around. there you are in the background there. you've traveled all around the world. will you travel back to haiti ?

    >> as soon as we can.

    >> we're trying to go back as soon as we can. we were so lucky to be able to get out alive. we're just really looking forward to getting back and helping.

    >> well, we're happy that you're okay. our thoughts and prayers are with the people in haiti . jillian and frank , thanks so much for spending time with us this morning.

    >> thanks, matt.

    >> thanks, matt.

    >>> up next, we're going to

TODAY contributor
updated 1/15/2010 9:18:59 AM ET 2010-01-15T14:18:59

Frank Thorp Jr., an American aid worker, was in the mountains 100 miles away from Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck, and at first he didn’t realize how serious it was. But then he learned that it had leveled the Haitian capital and that his wife, Jillian, was trapped in the wreckage of a building.

“We felt the earthquake, but it was just a small earthquake up there,” Thorp told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Wednesday via cell phone. There had been no cell phone reception in the mountains where he was, he explained, but “We heard a rumor that it had hit Port-au-Prince really hard.”

Just how hard the 7.0 temblor hit the capital became apparent once Thorp arrived in the city after a drive of six hours.

“It’s worse than a war zone,” Thorp told Lauer. “It’s thousands and thousands of Haitians on the streets because their buildings and their houses have collapsed, and they can’t live in them.”

‘Such a relief’
Among the flattened buildings was the house that served as the headquarters of the Haitian Ministries for the Diocese of Norwich, Conn., the mission for which the Thorps work. Trapped inside were Jillian and another co-worker, Charles Dietsch.

“We were really lucky, because there’s staff that always works here — a mission staff,” Thorp explained. “They dug a hole through the concrete ceiling of this house where they were caught.”

In a separate interview with CBS’ “The Early Show,” Thorp said that when he arrived, he could see Jillian’s hand under the rubble and heard her tell him to keep it together and just get her out. “We had to pull bricks and bricks and bricks and wood and doors and metal away for at least an hour before we were able to get her and her co-worker out,” he told CBS.

“She was in there for 10 hours,” Thorp told Lauer. “It was such a relief to get her out. It was an extremely emotional time.”

A former TODAY intern who worked as a desk assistant at NBC News’ Washington, D.C., bureau, Thorp told Lauer that his wife was lucky.

“Jillian is doing OK. She has some major bruises and she’s having a hard time walking,” Thorp said. “There was another person trapped with her who we think broke her leg. Another staff member here actually lost both of her legs.”

The Associated Press reported that a security guard at the mission is missing.

‘A horrible scene’
Jillian Thorp's father, Clay Cook of Old Saybrook, Conn., describes his daughter and son-in-law as “a strong couple” who each had their own trial to endure. “Jill was pinned in the rubble and Frank was driving through the darkness, not sure what was waiting for him at the end of the drive,” Cook said.

Frank Thorp Jr. and his wife Jillian, shown here in a file photo, are both American aid workers in Haiti.
Thorp told Lauer that the air was torn all night long by the screams of women mourning family members hauled dead from the rubble. Daylight brought no relief from the horror.

“Every other building has collapsed. It’s just a horrible scene,” he said. “There are dead people, there are people dying on the streets, there are injured on the streets. There are so many people here that need help, it’s absolutely horrible.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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