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Indelible impressions

Couple witnessed Haitian destruction firsthand

Many tears were shed Monday afternoon when a Lawrence couple greeted their families after escaping the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Haiti last week. But Adam and Karen Buhler, both Kansas University students, couldn't be happier to be back home.

The couple arrived at Kansas City International Airport after spending a couple of days readjusting to life in America in Florida, which they reached on Friday, three days after the Jan. 12 quake.

It took some time before they realized the full magnitude of the events that surrounded them. The couple had been in Jacmel, Haiti, doing some work to assist a school that helps children with special needs — Karen is working toward a master's degree in special education. They chose Haiti because of Adam's missionary work with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Adam recalled the quake being 10 to 40 seconds of shaking that seemed at first like a big truck running nearby. As the quake intensified, he watched the roof of a nearby church crumble near his hotel.

Karen, who is pregnant and due in June, recalled initially hoping that the event didn't make international news wires, so their parents wouldn't know.

"'We'll tell them when we get back,'" she remembered thinking. "We were in the dark, figuratively and literally."

Of course, their parents did find out; Doug Buhler, Adam's father, got a cell phone call from a friend of Adam's at 10 p.m. the night of the quake.

Just as they were beginning to digest news reports detailing the devastation, the families heard word from the couple via satellite phone that they were OK and trying to get home.

"I felt a peace" telling him that the couple would get home safely, Doug Buhler remembered thinking. "Other than just blind faith, I didn't know what to base that on. Maybe it's denial."

Meanwhile, holed up in a United Nations compound, the young couple were making friends with a Danish film crew that eventually helped arrange for them to board their helicopter to the nearby Dominican Republic. From there they flew to south Florida.

One of the first things they arranged? To get their hands on a supreme pizza, after gnawing on nutritional biscuits provided by the U.N. Karen said she ate them for the baby's sake — 425 calories of a rather nasty-tasting arrangement of essential vitamins and nutrients.

Having witnessed the disaster firsthand, the Buhlers feel for the people of the country they left behind. They remember the wails they heard as aftershocks rattled throughout the first night after the quake.

Karen said she and Adam intend to work on ways to help raise funds for Pazapa, the school they were working with in Jacmel before the quake hit. And they'll be returning to help, too, when they can.

"We'll go back," Adam said. "We were planning on going on future trips before. Even more so now."