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Tri-City woman borrows phone to call from Haiti

Fri., Jan. 15, 2010, 9:58 a.m.

A 59-year-old Kennewick woman who’s in Haiti working at an orphanage has gotten word to her family that she survived the devastating earthquake that left thousands of people injured or dead and that she plans to stay and keep the kids in her care safe.

Patty Thomas used a borrowed cell phone Thursday night to call her son, Todd Thomas, in Richland.

He and his brother, John, got a text message the day before saying their mom was OK, but it was a relief to hear her voice, Todd said.

She described a scene of destruction, saying she could even spot dead bodies up in mango trees, Todd said.

Patty Thomas is at New Life Children’s Center in Port-au-Prince. The orphanage serves more than 100 children, including several who are disabled. It’s near the capital city’s airport, which was damaged in Tuesday’s 7.0-magnitude quake along with hospitals, schools and the presidential palace.

Patty told her son that she was in her room on the orphanage’s compound when the earth began to shake violently. She was thrown around and could barely make it out the door.

When she finally was able to join the rest of the staff and children on the soccer field, the ground was moving so much they couldn’t stay on their feet, Todd said.

Patty told him there have been more than 28 aftershocks and that “it seems like the earth hasn’t stopped shaking,” Todd said.

No one from the orphanage was hurt, but staff there are worried because part of the security wall surrounding the compound came down, he said. Patty told him they’ve seen men nearby with guns.

The orphanage is run by the Florida-based World Harvest Missions Outreach. It has about eight staff members, mostly Haitians. There was a group there on a medical mission trip, but they’re planning to leave, Todd said.

Patty has made it clear she’s staying put.

“She’s going to stick with those kids,” Todd said.

The Kennewick woman, who is retired, has been traveling to Haiti regularly since 2006. She went on a mission trip through World Harvest and immediately felt a connection with the children at the orphanage.

“She fell in love with the kids from day one,” Todd said.

He and John accompanied her on that trip. Patty now spends about seven months of the year in Haiti.

Grim dispatches were pouring in from the devastated country Thursday, with the death toll reportedly in the tens of thousands.

The Red Cross is mobilizing volunteers and has released $10 million for relief efforts. The Benton-Franklin chapter alone has collected $2,300 in donations.

Todd Thomas said his mother sounded calm on the phone but that she was aware of the dangers.

“She kept reassuring (me) she was OK. It didn’t sound like she was fearful,” he said.

Other World Harvest workers are expected to be in Haiti soon. For now, the children and adults are sleeping outside on the soccer field because it isn’t safe for them inside, Todd said. They have a place to go in the north if it becomes too dangerous for them at the compound, he said.

Todd said he and his brother are praying hard for their mom and the people she’s with, and that they believe God is watching over them.

He said Psalm 91 is a favorite Bible verse of Patty’s and that she mentioned it to him on the phone Thursday.

It reads in part, “He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the almighty. I will say of the Lord, ’He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’ ”

A blog has been started to keep family and friends updated on Patty’s situation. It’s at pattythomashaiti.blogspot.com.



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