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.
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.