Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Chile earthquake brings double nightmare for Haitians

By Rodrigo Bustamante
BBC Mundo, Santiago

Members of the Desarmes family
Saturday's quake was a repeat of the nightmare for the Desarmes family

The Desarmes family from Haiti will never forget the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in January.

And they will never forget the earthquake that hit Chile last Saturday.

Because they lived through both.

When Haiti suffered its huge loss of life and widespread destruction nearly two months ago, the first thought of Pierre Desarmes, a Haitian singer based in Chile with his group Reggaeton Boys, was to get his family to safety.

He managed to bring his father, Joseph, mother Jeanelia Pierre, his brothers Quinchy and Stanley, Stanley's young daughter Standerly Nelia to Chile, along with four other Haitian nationals.

Traumatic time

They didn't speak Spanish and couldn't find work, but the hope at least was to find a bit of peace after the chaos of Haiti.

But all that changed at 03:34 local time (0634GMT) on Saturday when Chile was shaken by a massive 8.8 magnitude quake.

"I thought we were going to die, because we had left Haiti with so much destruction behind, and came here thinking we were safe, but we ended up living through something worse. I thought this was the year I was destined to die," said Stanley Desarmes.

"When the earth began to shake, the first person I grabbed was my daughter. All of us threw ourselves to the ground, we were praying together and we said 'Whatever happens, at least we are going to die together'", he said.

Pierre said that when the earthquake struck, his mother began to moan "Oh my God", unable to comprehend that the nightmare was repeating itself.

Pierre Desarmes
Pierre is doing what he can to comfort his traumatised relatives

Pierre's father, Joseph, said: "In Haiti, they got me out from under the ruins of a house, and I felt lucky to have survived.

"To come to Chile and go through the same situation, you can't imagine how I felt, how powerless I felt. It was the worst thing that could have happened to me."

Pierre says his relatives are not doing well psychologically after having lived through the two quakes, and he believes they will need help to try to recover from their traumatic experiences.

"They hadn't even got over the quake in Haiti when they arrived here to live through this massive earthquake. It wasn't a quake, it was really something unbelievable. And for them it is just inconceivable," he says.

"I am acting as father, brother, cousin, helper, psychologist. They believe that every situation means death, and I have to make a supreme effort to keep on convincing them that things here are not so bad."

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