UF student recalls quake horrors

Jon Bougher was in Haiti shooting a documentary when the earthquake hit Tuesday.

Published: Saturday, January 16, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 at 7:42 p.m.

University of Florida student Jon Bougher had been back in the U.S. less than a day and already was talking about returning to Haiti.

Bougher was one of two UF graduate students shooting a documentary in Haiti when Tuesday's earthquake struck. The students were in a Port-au-Prince suburb at an orphanage run by the aid organization that was the subject of the documentary. Bougher thought at first the rumbling was a big truck driving past.

"The farthest thing in my mind is there would be an earthquake in Haiti," he said.

After it became clear what had happened, he started documenting the devastation. But because he had been shooting all day, he had enough power for only about 40 minutes of footage. That's why he's now talking about returning to the island.

"We need to go back to Haiti, (but) we need to know if things are going to be stable enough to do that," he said.

Bougher on Thursday returned to the U.S. on a flight to Miami. He stayed that night with the family of his Documentary Institute student partner, Roman Safiullin, in Fort Lauderdale as they awaited Roman's return. Safiullin first had flown to the Dominican Republic and was expected to fly into the U.S. around midnight Friday.

After the earthquake, the students' families endured a prolonged delay in information before finding out Thursday morning the two were safe. Bougher said he was unaware of the attention their situation had received - including media coverage and a university-wide e-mail from UF President Bernie Machen.

"We had no idea, actually," he said.

While the students and orphans were safe, others in the area weren't so lucky. About 20 nearby homes collapsed, he said. Bodies were being pulled from the rubble - including a man whose wallet revealed pictures of his family.

"You knew they were going to pull his entire family out," he said.

Another memorable image, he said, was dozens of people standing in the street with their arms to the sky, thanking Jesus. He said the scene was grim but that there were signs of hope - such as about 200 people he saw singing together.

But Bougher said he worried the country was a "powder keg" because of the massive scale of the destruction. One of his documentary subjects, John Dieubon, drove around loading the back of his ambulance with dead bodies.

"He was in a daze like I've never seen him before, really concerned about the future of his country," Bougher said.

He said he hopes the earthquake will provide a wake-up call about the type of conditions faced by the Haitian people.

"I really hope people use this as an opportunity to learn about Haiti, to learn about the situation in Third World countries," Bougher said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com.

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