Aftershocks from Haiti

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A Shelbyville family's two days of terror

By Lisa King

Claire Miertschin, injured and in pain, kept vigil over her dying friend throughout what she told her family was the longest night of her life, as they slept in a field in Haiti after the earthquake had battered their bodies and throw their mission trip into disarray.


Back in Shelbyville, Miertschin’s mother, Jan Antos, knew nothing of her daughter's whereabouts or if she had even survived the earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed thousands of people on Tuesday night.

For two days, Antos and her husband, Ken, Miertschin's stepfather, waited and worried – and prayed.

"It was a nightmare that didn't end," Jan Antos said. "It was just awful, seeing all those horrible pictures on TV and knowing my little girl was in the middle of all that and not knowing whether she was alive. It was just a nightmare."

Miertschin was part of a 12-person team of missionaries from Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas who had arrived in Haiti only two days before the quake to set up an eye clinic.

Miertschin, a surgical technician, was one of several members who was injured in the quake. One of them, Jean Arnwine, Miertschin's friend and co-worker, died.

Though Miertschin survived her injuries, she remains very shaken up and tearful, her mother said.

"She is still in pain, and very emotional, but she is going to be OK," mother said, in a voice trembling with both tears and relief.

Antos said the town where her daughter's eye clinic was located was about 12 miles from Port-au-Prince, the capital city, and it experienced extreme destruction.

Her daughter and some of the other team members barely escaped being trapped under the rubble of the clinic because they had just left the building.

"They had just left the clinic and were walking down the street when the quake hit, and at first, they didn't realize what was happening," she said. "They thought that terrorists must have dropped a bomb or something because buildings were crashing down all around them, and the road was rolling like ocean waves and throwing them all over the place."

The team members regrouped and wound up sleeping that night in a field, Ken Antos said, and the next day they made their way to the airport, some of them riding on a truck.

"Claire and the others who were injured rode in the truck, but those who weren't hurt walked all the way to the airport, 23 miles," he said.

Antos said he and his wife and Claire's sister and father, who live in Dallas, experienced a terrible time of dread and waiting.

"I was just doing my best to be a man and not freak out," he said. "So we just prayed and prayed."

Jan Antos said that prayer and faith got them through a nightmare that no parent ever wants to have to endure.

"It was like big strong arms holding us up," she said. "We had a lot of support."

After two days, Ken Antos said, they got a text message from one of the team members, but it contained very scant information.

"It just said that they were alive, but some were injured, but it didn't say who," he said.

"Then her sister got a message from Claire that said, 'I'm alive and in Miami,'" her mother said.

"When we heard that she was alive and on the way to the hospital in Miami, I felt my stomach flop," Ken Antos said. "I didn't realize until then how tightly I'd been holding everything inside."

When Miertschin’s sister, April, called saying that Claire was being flown to Dallas the next day, her mother immediately set to work making travel arrangements, he said.

"She was still shaken up, but that was OK, because she was on her way to Claire," he said.

"Once I heard that she was in Miami, I just started thanking God," Jan Antos said.

She said her daughter is recovering from her injuries, and went back to work for the first time on Tuesday.

"She is going to be all right," she said. "She is still very sore and bruised, and she is still very emotional about her friend's death, but she is alive, and I thank God over and over for that."