Everything was on top of me,” Jean Claude Degazon said.
The man from Carrefour, Haiti, recounted his story of being buried alive during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
Under the rubble of a hosptial, Degazon didn’t lose consciousness while buried, he said. So he said he used that time to talk to God.
“I said, ‘God, how are you going to lead me?’ and the voice said to me ‘you could do something.’ ”
But as far as Degazon knew, he was immobilized.
“I couldn’t do anything,” he said. “And the voice kept saying ‘you could do something.’ ”
Pinned, Jean Claude Degazon, tried to move his arm, but there was no space.
He tried to move his legs.
“For the third time, I said ‘God, there is no way for me,’ ” he said.
“And the voice kept saying ‘you could do something.’ ”
Frustrated, Degazon tried again to move. Pulling his hand back behind his head, he found a hole big enough for his hand.
Degazon was in Florence to speak at the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library and First United Methodist Church in Florence before traveling to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Gadsden to share his message.
Degazon has worked as a translator for the United Methodist Church for 27 years and since the earthquake has been assisting volunteers from the United Methodist Church.
“The Methodist church has set aside money just for construction for the past three years,” said Patti Joiner, who was hosting Degazon after meeting him on a mission trip to Haiti. “It’s not just missionaries, it’s anyone that wants to physically help.”
She said her first trip to Haiti, there was so much to be done, but all she had time to do was dig ditches and move around large buckets. The church pays for three Haitians to help for each American who visits, and unless you speak French or Haitian Creole you have to communicate through a translator such as Degazon.
“He’s the one that will also help breach the cultures,” Joiner said. “There is a lot of baggage we as people who want to go over there to help bring with us, and sometimes we don’t understand their culture for various reasons and he helps us with that.”
With gentleness and caution, Dagazon explained some of the differences between Haiti and the U.S.
“Even the house where you stay, it isn’t safe,” Dagazon said. “Life is much more difficult in Haiti than it is here.”
Dagazon was working with a team in a hospital near where he lived in Carrefour. It was a place where doctors came to do surgery for people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.
“When I was inside of the surgery room, the doctor told me he was too tired and he asked me to go outside with him,” Degazon said. “So I went outside with him.”
There were five other interpreters that day in the hospital in Carrefour, a residential community outside of Port-au-Prince. Degazon said doctors called him back in to help with something.
“When they called me in, and I went in,” Degazon said. “In a few seconds, the ground shook.”
As the ground started to shake, Degazon gazed up at the hospital roof. It was made of thick concrete.
“That was my worry, because if the ceiling fell on you, that’s something bad,” Degazon said. “I did one step and I lifted up my leg, but I couldn’t run. It was like something told me not to run because I might die. I saw the ceiling come down on my head and crush me down.”
After the earthquake, Degazon started to experience neck pain. He went to the doctor and learned he had a serious injury. X-rays revealed broken vertebrae in his neck and leaking spinal fluids. The doctors said he was brought to them to build their faith in God.
“They said, ‘you look like someone who is very close to God, otherwise you would not be able to stand. This is a big miracle,’ ” Degazon said.
He was prescribed medicine to stop the fluids, but a few days later the pain was still there.
“I said, ‘God this is too much for me,’ ” Degazon said. “I told God to take the pain away from me because I could not live with it.”
The next morning, Degazon said he woke with no pain. His doctor sent him to two different labs to get X-rays, but both came back clear.
According to the U.S. Geological survey, the Haiti earthquake in 2010 is the second deadliest on record, after the 1556 earthquake in Shaanxi, China. The Haiti earthquake killed more than 300,000 according to official estimates. Another 300,000 were injured with 1.3 million people displaced from their homes.
According to the U.S. Geological’s website, more than 97,000 homes were destroyed in the 7.0 magnitude earthquake, with 188,000 damaged.
Joiner said while the work in Haiti isn’t done, efforts from mission work have gone a long way to help the people rebuild and improve their lives.
“That work was not done in vain,” Joiner said. “... and in the very least we didn’t make the people of that country think they stood alone.”
Degazon spent some of his time in the United States, speaking with the cabinet members of the United Methodist Church and the mission committees.
Joiner said while the United Methodist Church has stayed in Haiti for longer than many, beginning in October their time will be refocused to transition from disaster relief to long-term recovery.
“Everyone is looking at, where do we go now, what do we do from here,” he said. “Do we just abandon these people and this project?”
Joiner said that 80 percent of schools are still closed and 70 percent of bodies are still buried in rubble in Haiti.
“As that comes to a close, we want to stop and talk to some of the people who make those decisions and just tell them what our thoughts are from a firsthand experience,” Joiner said. “Because in Haiti, we still have so much to do.”
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.