DALLAS — Almost a dozen North Texans were conducting mission work in Haiti very close to the epicenter of Tuesday’s massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake.
The volunteer medical staff was organized by Dallas’ Highland Park United Methodist Church and had been working at the Haiti Eye Clinic in Petit Goave, a seaside village 23 miles from the capital when disaster struck.
The earthquake is reportedly Haiti’s strongest earthquake in more than 200 years, collapsing buildings at dinner time, knocking out electricity and limiting communications.
The epicenter was southwest of the capital – Port-au-Prince. The Texas team was southwest, as well, working inside the one-story eye surgery center.
“So they made sure everybody was OK and from everything we know everyone is safe and sound,” said Rachael Faubion, Global Missions director, Highland Park United Methodist Church.
Faubion said the twelve are part of a regular mission the church has organized in Haiti for years. They were taking 2,000 pair of eyeglasses to the country.
At least a third of them are from Texas Retina Associates, said two people outside the church with knowledge of the trip. While everyone is said to be OK, loved ones have yet to contact all twelve of the Texans on the island nation.
“There are nurses, anesthesiologists, surgeons, anything having to do with optical eye care, we’ve got them there,” Faubion added.
Among those making the trip is Dr. James Lehmann, 35.
“We received a text message from James saying there was a earthquake and he was fine,” said his sister, Jennifer Hall.
Dr. Lehmann completed his residency in Dallas at UT Southwestern and is now a partner in a San Antonio ophthalmology practice.
Hall said Dr. Lehmann’s wife received a second text Tuesday evening which said he was sleeping in a field tonight and is considering walking the 23 miles back to the capital Wednesday where the relief effort will begin.
Besides buildings, the quake knocked out electricity and phone lines in the desperately poor country. That’s making it tough for families here to find out about their loved ones there.
Dr. Lehmann, a cornea specialist, has done relief work in Jerusalem, Thailand, and Peru among other places, Hall said.
Hall also said she spoke to the U.S. State Department which suggested he stay out of crowded areas and pay attention to the civilian police who will be directing people to relief.