A permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Hartford has spoken about his rescue from the ruins of his destroyed mission house in earthquake-struck Haiti. Though death “filled the night,” he said he believes God still has plans for him and he intends to return to help the country.
Deacon Chuck Dietsch, 66, has served at Sacred Heart Church in Southbury, Conn. for fourteen years. For the past two years he has worked with Haitian Ministries for the Diocese of Norwich.
Last week he was working at Norwich Mission House in a suburb of the capital city Port-au-Prince. There, he helped provide food, shelter, and education while supporting orphanages, parish communities, and medical missions.
The deacon, a stocky man with graying hair, bore several gashes on the left side of his forehead in his appearance at press conference on Monday. He said that he had been in the mission house with its acting director Jillian Thorp when the earthquake struck.
“When the ground began to move, she did not recognize what was happening but, because I lived for several years in California, I knew exactly what it was. I pulled her into a doorway, as I had learned, but I never expected an earthquake of that magnitude in Haiti,” Deacon Dietsch said.
After the quake the two, “by the grace of God,” found themselves alive in a small air pocket.
He and Thorp were buried six feet down and were unable to move in the dark, New England Cable News (NECN) reports. Thorp was trapped on top of Dietsch, whose back was bent over a cinder block.
“The roof of our air-pocket was practically on top of us and one of her feet was caught in rubble,” the deacon said.
His left hand was crushed and pinned by the 2-by-4 lumber piece that kept other debris from falling on them. He suffered excruciating pain
In their first two hours he said he felt “fear, sadness, because I believed I was never going to see my family again, and there was hopelessness.”
As the air began to run out, Deacon Dietsch said, “I remember praying to God ‘I guess it’s just time I go to sleep.’
“For some reason, then I said, ‘no, there’s still hope.’”
Twenty minutes later, rescuers broke through and fresh air filled their cramped space. They were freed at 3 a.m. on Wednesday after 10 hours of being trapped in the ruined building.
“We owe our lives to the Assistant Director of the mission house, a young Haitian man, and two other employees who found us two hours after the quake struck and worked through the night to dig us out, literally with their hands.”
“Unfortunately, the sounds were horrific. Because death filled the night,” he told the press conference.
He and Thorp were “medivaced” from the American Embassy to the Dominican Republic, where they were hospitalized overnight. He was able to call his wife on Thursday, two days after the earthquake struck.
“I spent much time in prayer during the 10 hours Jill and I were buried in the rubble of the house. Because I survived, I know that God has further plans for me. I will need some time to discern what those plans might be. Haiti has once again been thrust onto the world stage as the result of unimaginable tragedy and horror.
“I pray that, this time, the world will take action – yes, to bind up the wounds that are now so raw and bleeding – but also to work together to solve the problems that plague Haiti and her people.”
The deacon said he prayed for Haiti’s support with present emergency aid and also with future assistance to provide “hope and dignity for her people.”
“My family and I will be eternally grateful to Dom, Ti-ton and Milot, the three Haitian men who worked to free Jillian and me. They are our heroes.”
In a note to Sacred Heart parishioners, he explained that his prayers before his rescue centered on asking God for protection and for help for the thousands of other victims. “My prayers also focused on trying to place myself completely in God’s hands and allow him to decide my fate.”
“The mystery that is our God has become an even greater mystery for me,” he remarked.
According to CECN, Deacon Dietsch said he will go back to Haiti when he is physically able and when there is infrastructure to support his work.