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 the Chilean capital 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, the lead singer of a popular Haitian reggaeton band in Chile, still gets choked up when he recalls seeing his family for the first time stepping off the plane.
“I saw them but I didn’t believe it. I said, ‘My God, they’re here.’ It was a very difficult moment,” he said, speaking in French in the garden of the house the family now calls home.
“Each time I think about it, I get sad, because I realize I was able to do this because I was here. But there are so many people who are there and I don’t know what’s going to happen to them.”
His 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, sipping a Coke at a table in the garden, his relatives sitting nearby.
“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.”
Desarmes’ brother, Stanley Desarmes, 32, is deeply unsettled. The father of a 2-year-old girl, Nelia, who plays in the yard, he worries for his family’s safety and is thinking about uprooting them again to move somewhere with less danger of earthquakes.
“I don’t know what I can do, but staying isn’t possible,” he said. “I could die and I could lose my family. I have to leave. I don’t know where, I don’t know how. But I don’t want to die with my family here.”