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'Super tough' sisters scramble to save orphans

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Friday, Jan. 15, 2010

Two Ben Avon sisters who run an orphanage in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince are in a frantic race to get about 150 children off the island, as worries escalate about food and water shortages aftery this week's devastating earthquake.

"They're OK right now, but they don't have anything," said Doug Heckman of the North Side, whose wife, Jamie McMutrie, runs BRESMA orphanage. "The little they have is not going to last very long."

The plight of Jamie and Ali McMutrie attracted interest from Pittsburgh lawmakers and others, who scrambled Thursday to get them help. Although they were not injured, the sisters initially struggled to communicate with relatives and sent a quick text message from a stranger's BlackBerry saying they were fine.

"Two nights ago we got an e-mail from the embassy, and it was just one line from Jamie saying 'I'm OK call me at this number,' " said the women's father, Sam McMutrie of Emsworth. "The number never worked. We kept trying the number all night and never were able to connect."

Jamie McMutrie, 30, and her sister Ali, 21, were driving a prospective parent to the airport when Tuesday's powerful earthquake hit the Caribbean nation. They returned to the three-house orphanage to find it nearly destroyed, Sam McMutrie said.

"Our emotions went up and down," McMutrie, 54, said from Keystone Church in Hazelwood where he works. "We were relieved that they were OK, but then we realized what was going on with the babies."

The sisters run a part of the orphanage dedicated for newborns, babies and sick children. They temporarily relocated the children to the orphanage's backyard but are trying to move them into a house that did not sustain as much damage.

"The ground was still shaking yesterday," said Heckman, 34, who spoke to his wife briefly yesterday. She and her sister found a limited supply of food and gas with which to cook, but he fears they will run out soon.

Some of the children have almost completed the adoption process with U.S. families. To bring the children to safety immediately, the women's family enlisted the help of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation.

Rep. Jason Altmire, a McCandless Democrat, released a statement saying he and Rep. Mike Doyle and Sens. Bob Casey and Arlen Specter "are fully engaged in efforts to help."

"I have also spoken to the White House and we are all working together to secure help as quickly as possible," Altmire said.

The orphans' plight spread through blogs and social networking sites Facebook and Twitter, capturing the attention of former U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan, a Republican who is considering a challenge to Altmire. Buchanan said she is working with an adoption agency, attorneys, hospitals and a private jet company to send supplies as soon as possible.

"I was so moved by what they were doing," said Buchanan, who read about the sisters on a popular Pittsburgh-based blog called "That's Church," written by Virginia Montanez. "I quickly thought about the contacts that I have, to see if we could all come together and put the pieces in order to get them out of Haiti."

Buchanan said Dr. Mary Carrasco of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System volunteered to provide the children medical care, and immigration attorneys were trying to obtain a humanitarian parole that would allow them to enter the United States.

Carrasco, who runs A Child's Place at Mercy, a child advocacy program, said she worries about the clinical condition of the children if help can't reach them soon.

"We still don't know if we can go," she said. "I'm concerned about the decisions we'll have to make once we are down there."

Heckman said he works the phone constantly, trying to find ways to ship supplies.

The women first visited the orphanage in March 2003, when they traveled to Haiti with their mother, Diane. They gradually became involved, paying frequent visits and finally turning it into a full-time passion in 2007. They visit Pittsburgh three or four times a year.

Their brother, Chad, described a roller coaster of emotions, but said the two are strong women who can handle adversity.

"They are super tough," he said. "They just take control of a situation."

Additional Information:

From Haiti

Excerpt from email sent by McMutrie sisters to a family member, posted Thursday on 'That's Church' blog by Virginia Montanez

'as for if everyone is 'safe' please understand the answer is NO!!!!there is no safety here for anyone, supplies will be helpful the next few days but where to go from there• the supplies will be stolen, our house will be looted, it is simply inevitable and we are just praying for time.

ali and jamie'




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