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Time running out for 'desperate' US missionaries to save South Sudan orphans

U.S. missionary Kim Campbell speaks of the terrifying escape from her orphanage in South Sudan to a nearby makeshift U.N. camp. She is now trying to get her family and 10 orphans in their care on a flight out of the violence-torn country.

Time is running out for an American family in South Sudan struggling to rescue 10 orphans from the country, their U.S. friends said Thursday.

The Campbells, a missionary family who set up an orphanage in the South Sudanese city of Malakal, were forced to flee their building when violence reached the city just before Christmas.

They have the paperwork to escape the violence-riven country – but despite their food supplies running low, they have decided to stay in the hope of securing safe passage for the South Sudanese orphans in their care.

Freddie Power is a close friend of the family and president of the North Carolina-based Keeping Hope Alive ministry which is sponsoring them. She told NBC News Thursday that the hopes of getting the orphans out took a serious hit after the local South Sudanese child welfare office was bombed and looted.

"It's terrifying for them," said Power. "They are tired and there's no food the United Nations can give them. They are in a pretty desperate situation."

Parents Kim and Brad Campbell and their American daughters Katie Talbott, 23, and Cassidy Talbott, 16, have been involved in missionary work since 2008. But last year they sold their house in Omaha, Neb., as well as all of their possessions, and went to the world's youngest nation to set up the orphanage.

Their missionary life was torn apart when fighting started among the country's presidential guards on Dec. 15 and quickly spiraled into widespread ethnic violence. The violence has killed more than 1,000 and displaced nearly 200,000 people, according to the U.N.

They came under heavy fire when they left the orphanage and had to turn back and make a second attempt. They eventually made it to a packed displaced persons camp some three miles away.

Kim Campbell, 54, on Monday appealed to the U.N. to help with their increasingly dire situation.

Ben Curtis / AP

Kim Campbell from Nebraska stands in a United Nations camp Monday with some of the 10 orphan children she and her husband Brad are raising in Malakal, South Sudan.

"I think they are trying, they're all aware that we're here," Campbell told APTN. "We were put on an evacuation list, so they are doing what they can do.

"I understand they have procedures, but I would think in a time of war somebody could do something. If you're trying to protect the children then this isn't the place to do it."

Power, who has been trying to keep regular contact with the Campbell family, said the U.N. camp where the family is staying has 22,000 refugees inside.

With food becoming scarce, the family may soon be faced with a difficult decision.

"Without food you cannot hold out too long. But they will not leave without the kids – so I don't know what's going to happen," Power said.

On Tuesday, the White House said it remained "deeply concerned" about the fragile security situation in South Sudan.

South Sudan's government and rebels were due to start New Year's Day peace talks to thrash out details of a ceasefire to end more than two weeks of ethnic bloodletting, mediators said.

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