ESSAY- Trapped in Haiti: A true story with a tragic ending

"What do you need?"

The network news video showed French rescue workers digging through rubble of a Port-au-Prince luxury hotel and cutting through the rebar, and there was my brother-in-law.

"Clinton? Clinton?" they say on the video.

Clinton groggily lifts his head from the rubble and asks, "Yeah? What do you need?"

What do you need? When my husband heard those words on the television we'd huddled around, he turned to me and said, "That's Clint in a sentence. Those words tell the whole story of who he is."

We (my sister, my husband and I, five of her children and a daughter-in-law) had been huddled over computers and in front of the TV in their Westchester County home for three days, searching for any information, monitoring Facebook, other media and websites, trying to get any news of Clint–- Clinton Clark Rabb– and his co-workers, who had not been heard from since the quake. We narrowed their whereabouts down to the Hotel Montana, which was frightening since the hotel had been leveled.

We had practically given up hope, when, at 11:30pm Friday night a call came in from a reporter from the London Times.

Clint was alive? He was alive! Those moments were jubilant, incredulous, wonderful. We hugged, we cried, we looked at each other in disbelief. We thought, at that point, that our dear brother would be quickly rescued, and we celebrated at seeing him alive. That video was such a gift. In that easy-going, soft Texan drawl, his words were a song to us.

After 55 hours of entrapment in a 5 x 7 x 3-foot space, Clint, his friend and co-worker, Sam, and their friend and consultant, Jim, had been found together in the rubble of the Hotel Montana where they'd gone to dinner.

Before we saw the video on MSNBC, we had received a crackling, hard-to-hear call from Haiti. The Times reporter was calling my sister to tell her that her husband was alive. He told her that he asked Clint, as he lay trapped, if there were any messages he wanted to get out.

"Tell my wife I deeply love her, and we're going to survive this," he said. "And I'm praying for all those who did not survive."

Jim was pulled out virtually unscathed, but Clint and Sam had large slabs of concrete crushing their legs. Laying right next to Clint, his good buddy Sam passed away before he could be freed.

Fifteen hours after Jim was pulled out, the French surgeons finished their amputation of Clint's legs to free him. The French surgeons who had worked on his amputations in hot, 3-foot-high quarters wept and hugged as the helicopter took him away.

Thanks to those French surgeons and a search and rescue team from Fairfax, Clint made it out of the rubble and on to Guantanamo Bay and then was flown to the North Broward Medical Center in Florida. He was in critical but stable condition.

When my sister, Suzanne, arrived in Florida, Clint was on a ventilator and heavily sedated. When he was able to see her, his eyes grew wide. He tried to smile, but with so many tubes, it wasn't possible. She told him how much she loved him. She told him how we had all been searching nonstop and that he was home, with love and support from around the world. His eyes well up with tears, but within seconds he was asleep, the sedation was so heavy.

She thought she was saying hello to the rest of their life. He would face his life as a double amputee, but if anyone could meet that challenge, it was Clint. Sadly, she was saying goodbye.

The next morning Clint's body crashed as his body rejected the dialysis. There were too many factors— we don't yet know the details— only that with my sister praying at his side, he left his body. Suzanne lay on his bed next to him for a long while after they took all the tubes and equipment away. She talked to him and held his hand. She told him that she would try to carry on his legacy of selfless service to God and mankind.

In the days that followed, in a voice choked with emotion, Jim would tell us via the phone about their time in their concrete cave. Jim told us they sang "Peace Like a River." They prayed. Jim's cellphone was their only light, but they used it to assess their situation.

Jim said they had been in the hotel lobby, having just arrived for dinner, when the ground shook. Jim said he turned to Clint and said, "it's an earthquake," but before they could react, the whole building collapsed on them. The hotel's desk held some of the concrete, allowing them to survive in that small space. Jim told us that Sam and Clint were in so much pain, but he said that Clint didn't talk of his pain; he spent most of his time trying to relieve Sam's pain.

Jim would break off pieces of flat plaster from above them and hand them to Clint, and Clint would push on Sam to shift his weight and push the plaster underneath, to hold his body in different positions to relieve the stress. He said Clint would try to distract Sam from his pain with conversation and song. They were so thirsty as they lay there hour after hour. At one point, Clint told them, "When I get out of here, I'm gonna get a bunch of ice cold Coke Zeros. I'm going to line them all up on a table and drink them all."

Jim said Clint paused, and then said, "No, not Coke Zeros, make that real Cokes." 

Clint was a missionary. He worked for the General Board of Global Ministries as Executive General Secretary of Mission Volunteers and traveled the globe assisting and advocating for those who could not advocate for themselves: the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the sick. He was in Haiti for a meeting with various churches and organizations addressing Haitian health care needs. We have started a nonprofit public charity to carry on his work.


The author and her husband have a book design business and a yoga center in Nelson County.