The Deacon's Bench

The Connecticut deacon who was rescued from the rubble in Haiti had a chance to tell his story yesterday:

Prayers filled his thoughts for 10 hours as Chuck Dietsch awaited rescue or death.

51741363.jpgAll around him, Dietsch heard screams. People were in pain or mourning as they discovered the bodies of loved ones killed from falling debris during the earthquake that shattered Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 12. He and fellow volunteer Jillian Thorp also were suffering. Trapped beneath what had been their mission house, they lay together, in and out of consciousness as they began losing air, his body eventually going into shock from the pain.

Pausing several times Tuesday morning to regain his composure, Dietsch recounted a night “filled with horror and terror.” He stood at the pulpit of Sacred Heart Church in Southbury, of which he is a deacon. He said he called the news conference to bring attention to the help the victims will need.

“We prayed for the many people that we heard. There was a lot of noise that night, not just the earthquake. Half the people on our front street died,” Dietsch said. “The sounds were horrific because death filled the night.”

Staff members of the mission house, which is run by Haitian Ministries for the Diocese of Norwich, usually leave every day at 4 p.m. Dietsch, who turned 66 on Monday, and Thorp, 23, were the only two who had stayed behind. They were on the second floor of the building.

“When the ground began to move, she did not recognize what was happening,” Dietsch recalled. But, because he’d lived in California, he knew that feeling. He grabbed Thorp and the two stood in a doorway as they fell along with the second floor.

They were confined to a small space, his back pinned against a concrete block and her legs pinned on top of him. A 2-by-4 that had fallen, badly injuring his left hand, was propping up the rest of the debris on top of them. They felt hope when a staff member of the mission house returned at about 1 a.m. to see if they were OK. Their yells caught the staff member’s attention who left and returned with two other Haitian men. The three, along with Thorp’s husband, Frank Thorp, worked until 3 a.m. digging with their hands to save Dietsch and Jillian Thorp.

The Haitian Ministries supports artisans and their families, provides education through a scholarship program and provides medical care and emergency relief, Dietsch explained.

“We’re there to help the Haitians live a better life and they saved my life,” he said, while trying to keep his composure. “There is no way we can ever repay them.”

Dietsch and Thorp, an Old Saybrook native who now lives in Washington, D.C., were taken to the American Embassy in Haiti and later flown to a hospital in the Dominican Republic. Dietsch arrived at Bradley International Airport Thursday night.

Dietsch has a deep gash on his left hand and many bad bruises, including around his left eye. He said his entire back is one large bruise. Upon his return to Connecticut, Dietsch spent many hours in the emergency room at Danbury Hospital. He said he has temporary nerve damage and that his kidneys had shut down. He is having surgery today to repair his hand.

Dietsch had been in Haiti since Jan. 6 and was planning to stay until the end of March. In addition to his and his wife’s work with the Haitian Ministries, their church has been working for the past few years with a parish in Haiti. He and his wife, Dorne, with whom he celebrated his 43rd wedding anniversary the day after he came back, plan to return to Haiti.

“I’m alive because of the grace of God. I can’t go through the rest of my retired life saying, ‘God saved me and now life is wonderful.’… God wants us to help the Haitian people,” he said.

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