October 2, 2002 - Lubbock Online: A Story of the harrowing escape from rebel-held area

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 10 October 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: October 2, 2002 - Lubbock Online: A Story of the harrowing escape from rebel-held area

By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, October 02, 2002 - 9:16 am: Edit Post

A Story of the harrowing escape from rebel-held area

Read and comment on this story from Lubbock Online about David Abbott, a Lubbock-born missionary, who describes the intense final hours before he and a group of Americans that included two Peace Corps Volunteers were safely evacuated from Ferkessedougou, a city in Ivory Coast at:

Lubbock native tells of harrowing escape from rebel-held area*

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Lubbock native tells of harrowing escape from rebel-held area


David Abbott, a Lubbock-born missionary evacuated Sunday from war torn Ivory Coast, described to his sister the intense final hours before he and his family were safely evacuated from this country in West Africa.

Abbott, 54, has worked as a missionary at a Baptist hospital in Ferkessedougou, a city in Ivory Coast, for 12 years.

Since Thursday, French and U.S. forces have evacuated 2,500 people mostly Westerners and other foreign nationals from the rebel-held cities of Bouake and Korhogo and surrounding areas, The Associated Press reported.

Abbott and his wife, Ann, 52, and their sons, Davy 13, and Stephen, 8, had been unsure of their fate since a Sept. 19 coup attempt.

On Saturday, French helicopters landed in Korhogo, 40 miles west of the Abbotts' location, and secured the airport, David Abbott wrote in an e-mail to his sister, Jeannie Stuart of Lubbock.

"Gunfire continued night and day in our town and our nerves were getting thin," Abbott wrote.

By Sunday, it was time to get out.

The U.S. military wanted to land helicopters in the compound where the Abbotts and 14 other American missionaries and two Peace Corps volunteers were located, but Abbott advised against it, he wrote.

"I told them that the rebels' training camp was only 200 yards from us and it was too risky," he wrote. "We could be shot down."

They decided to leave from a secluded airstrip about 15 miles outside of town near a sugar plantation.

Abbott said he asked for a military escort to leave the town, but one couldn't be provided.

"We had to go to the rebels ourselves and ask for permission to leave," he wrote. "Taking an African with us, we went to the military training camp."

Abbott and another missionary were met by guards and taken to a tree, where they spoke to a leader. They were surrounded by armed rebels.

"I explained that we were Americans and that our embassy had called for our evacuation," Abbott wrote. "I was scared, but kept talking.

"I asked for permission to depart and it was granted!"

More than an hour later, the Abbotts and other missionaries crowded onto a French helicopter that then took off, flying just above the tree tops.

"For me, it was just like a scene from a war movie," Abbott wrote. "For the boys, it was the most exciting time of their lives."

By midnight Sunday, the Abbotts were in a hotel in Accra, the capital of Ghana, a country just east of Ivory Coast.

Ivory Coast was plunged into chaos after a failed coup attempt that involved a core group of 750 soldiers who were being purged from the military for suspected disloyalty. Insurgents were quelled in Abidjan, but they took over Bouake and Korhogo, the northern opposition stronghold. At least 270 people died in the first days after the failed coup.

Abbott said in the e-mail that they planned to leave for Denver, Colo., Tuesday night.

They will spend the rest of the week there and arrive in Lubbock on Sunday, his sister said.

Stuart and her family are thankful and relieved, she said.

"We're very thankful and very thankful for all the prayers that were said," she said.

She said she does not know what her brother intends to do in the future.

A war in the Ivory Coast could drag on for months, Stuart said, and there's no way to know what will happen to the missionaries' hospital or to their homes.

"They don't know what they'll have to go back to," Stuart said.

The hospital was left to be managed by locals, Stuart said.

"They left the African staff in charge and they'll try to do as much for the people as they can with the limited knowledge and resources they have, and they'll try to keep it going unless the rebels take it over," she said.

The Abbotts were allowed to leave with only one bag each.

"We go out with basically nothing," Abbott wrote. "Stephen brought his teddy bears. Davy would not carry anything and (left) with only his hat."

The family was still in shock Tuesday, Abbott wrote. But he also noted, "God has answered in a powerful way and we are so thankful to be alive."

lkane@lubbockonline.com 766-8754

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