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Family flees quake, finds another

Pierre Desarmes, left, with Seraphin Philomene, center and Jean Mary Pierre, all in Chile, chat with their family members still in Haiti on Wednesday.

Associated Press

Pierre Desarmes, left, with Seraphin Philomene, center and Jean Mary Pierre, all in Chile, chat with their family members still in Haiti on Wednesday.

SAN BERNARDO, Chile — The Desarmes family left their native Haiti two weeks after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake, joining the eldest son in Chile for what seemed a refuge from the fear and chaos of Port-au-Prince.

Their sense of security lasted barely a month. It was shattered at 3:43 a.m. Saturday when one of the most powerful quakes on record shook a swath of Chile.

All the Desarmes' immediate family survived both quakes. But twice cursed, the family now sleeps in the garden of a home that the eldest son, Pierre Desarmes, found for them just south of Santiago. They fear yet another temblor will strike.

"I left my country and came here because of an earthquake," Seraphin Philomene, a 21-year-old student and cousin of Desarmes, said Wednesday. "And here, the same thing! My God, I left my country and I didn't die, but I'm going to die here!"

Pierre Desarmes, 34, managed to get his family out of Haiti thanks to personal contacts at the Chilean Embassy in Port-au-Prince and the Chilean armed forces. Nine members of his family — his parents, two brothers and their families, and three cousins — arrived in Santiago on a Chilean air force plane Jan. 23.

Desarmes' relatives had to leave Haiti with only hours' notice, receiving instructions on where to go via cell phone text messages from a relative in the United States who was in contact with Desarmes in Santiago. Philomene didn't even have time to pack, dashing to the Chilean Embassy when she received word the family had been cleared to fly out.

Saturday's earthquake has made a difficult transition even more traumatic.

"When the aftershocks come, they refuse to stay in the house," Desarmes said.

"I have to talk to them all day long telling them, 'There are no problems, it's a country that's prepared for earthquakes, it'll pass, it's not so bad.' But they don't hear me. Psychologically for them, they're still really affected by it."

Philomene plans to stay, hoping to bring the rest of her family to Chile. She was the only member of her immediate family to get out; her mother, father, two sisters and a brother are still in Cap-Haitien.

Reached late Wednesday by the Associated Press in Cap-Haitien, Philomene's father, Luigene Philomene, was elated at the news that his daughter was safe.

The elder Philomene said when he heard that his daughter had been in the Chile earthquake he thought of a Haitian saying that loosely translates as "we saved her from the river and she ended up in the sea."

Family flees quake, finds another 03/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 4, 2010 10:23pm]
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