Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Local missionaries survive El Salvador quake

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Don and Gail Barker of Mount Airy hold a photo of their daugheter Kristen. With them is son Kyle.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        Letting their children do missionary work in El Salvador, one of the most violent countries in the world, was tough enough for some Tristate parents. Not knowing whether they survived an earthquake in the Central American country was much worse.

        The 7.6 magnitude quake devastated San Salvador, the Central American nation's capital, on Saturday, killing hundreds.

        It was quite a worry for the parents of Kristen Barker, 23, of Mount Airy, and Matthew Eisen, 29, of Delhi Township — two Catholics and Xavier University graduates who have been doing missionary work in El Salvador. Both are unhurt, although Mr. Eisen's apartment was destroyed by the quake.

        Each contacted their parents on Sunday, the day after the disaster, to assure them that they were OK. In their phone calls and e-mails, they said that they waited so long because they were away from their home bases when the earthquake happened.

  The agency the two Cincinnatians are working with is accepting donations to help quake victims. E-mail CRISPAZ@igc.org, call CRISPAZ at (617) 354-9645, or write to CRISPAZ, 1555 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138.
        The two, who knew each other at XU and remain in touch while in El Salvador, were in separate buses outside San Salvador when the earthquake struck.

        Traffic was impossible afterward, leaving Ms. Barker to wade through mud for seven hours before she returned to the western San Salvador neighborhood where she's been staying. The neighborhood is west of the Las Colinas neighbor hood, where so many people are thought to be buried under rocks, earth and mud.

        Mr. Eisen took 24 hours to return to his northern San Salvador neighborhood, where he realized that half of his friends were missing and that his apartment was in ruins.

        Yet their parents were thrilled to know they were safe and sound. They had been waiting anxiously to hear from them.

        Ms. Barker called her parents, Don and Gail Barker, Sunday afternoon. Kristen is the oldest of their three children. While talking to her, they could hear her building rattle from the aftershocks passing through the area.

        But “I gave a big sigh of relief. Not knowing eats at you. It was just incredible to find out she was OK,” Mr. Barker said.

        Betty Eisen received a call from her son on Monday. Homeless, he told her that was hoping to find someplace safe to stay.

        Despite the horrible news, she loved hearing his voice.

        “I can't explain it: To know he's OK. It's just a warm, fuzzy blanket,” she said.

        Before the call came, she had only an e-mail to bank her hopes on.

        Her son wrote: “I was traveling outside the city on a highway, just one hour be fore the earthquake hit. That highway was then covered in a landslide, killing an undetermined number of motorists. It was an amazingly powerful experience.”

        Ms. Barker, whose family attends Church of the Little Flower in Mount Airy, and Mr. Eisen, whose mother attends Our Lady of Victory Church in Delhi Township, arrived in El Salvador to do missionary work for CRISPAZ, which has administrative offices in Massachusetts. The agency focuses on helping El Salvador, which was devastated by civil war between 1980 and 1992.

        Ms. Barker arrived in El Salvador four months ago. Mr. Eisen has been there four years. He originally worked with CRISPAZ but now works with a youth group.

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