Image: Darlene Etienne
Dieu Nalio Chery  /  AP
Darlene Etienne, now an apparently healthy 17-year-old, was pulled from the rubble of her cousin's home near the ruins of the St. Gerard parish school by French rescue workers, more than two weeks after the Jan. 12 massive earthquake. Almost one year has passed since the Jan. 12, 2010 magnitude-7.0 quake that killed more than 220,000 people and left millions homeless.
updated 1/10/2011 5:57:00 PM ET 2011-01-10T22:57:00

The smiling teen who pokes her head out of the doorway of her grandmother's house is the embodiment of human resilience, someone whose very existence seems utterly impossible.

A year ago, Darlene Etienne was entombed in crumbled concrete and twisted steel. All around her, the sprawling city of Port-au-Prince was in ruins. Frantic family members and trained search teams dug through the debris for survivors but had largely given up hope of finding anyone else alive.

Then on Jan. 27 — a staggering 15 days after the earthquake that the government says killed more than 220,000 people — people heard her faint voice, weakly calling for help through the debris. Soon, a French rescue team was digging her out before hundreds of stunned onlookers.

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She was covered in chalky white dust, like a ghost. Her eyes sunken, unfocused. A rescuer told The Associated Press at the scene that she would not likely have survived even for a few more hours if undiscovered.

Darlene now is an apparently healthy 17-year-old, living with her extended family in the rural Artibonite Valley, a rough three-hour drive on mostly dirt roads from Haiti's capital. AP journalists paid her a surprise visit and found a smiling teen, though she obviously hasn't forgotten her ordeal.

She recalls being conscious and awake the whole time she was trapped — in contrast to others who survived long periods under the rubble and said they spent much of the time dozing or drifting in and out of consciousness. And she remembers screaming for help, though the city was a cacophony of rumbling equipment and other noise in those desperate days.

"I could hear people passing by and I thought they were going to rescue me," she said in an interview Sunday. "But it was never me that they were rescuing."

Darlene, the middle child of three, had left her family for the first time just nine days before the magnitude-7.0 earthquake, traveling the 40 miles from Marchant Dessalines to live with her cousin and his wife while attending high school in Port-au-Prince.

Prosthetic limbs give quake survivors chance to rise

The quake trapped unknown numbers of people, and some work crews are still recovering bodies. Among the victims was the wife of Darlene's cousin, crushed by a falling wall in the back of their house. No one thought there could be any other survivors in such wreckage.

A man scrambling over the wreckage in the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood finally heard Darlene. She gave him her phone number and he called her family, who alerted rescuers. The French team evacuated her to a field hospital for treatment of severe dehydration, then to a medical ship just off the coast.

It was a remarkable rescue and it provoked skepticism amid the amazement. At least 135 people had been unearthed by rescue teams after the Jan. 12 quake, but most were found in the immediate aftermath. The French rescuers and doctors, though, believed she had been trapped the whole time.

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Darlene is now back in school in Marchand Dessaline, surrounded by the rice fields that are the main livelihood in this part of Haiti. She shakes her head as she examines photos of her rescue and passes the picutres around to her family and neighbors in the village. It is hard to believe it's the same person.

Her mother, Kerline Dorcant, thanked God that her daughter was saved. Her hope now is that she will find some way to go abroad for a chance at a life better than what is available in rural Haiti.

"I am so happy, but I want her to go to another country because there is nothing for here," Dorcant said. "The only thing she has here is school and I don't want her to stay here. But I saw so many people die that I was so happy she was alive and I thank God."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Haiti marks grim anniversary

  1. Closed captioning of: Haiti marks grim anniversary

    >>> welcome back to "news nation." this week marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in haiti and the recovery is far from over. in fact, take a look at pictures out of haiti 's national palace still in ruins. downtown port-au-prince where destroyed buildings are not leveled yet. mara campos live in port-au-prince. how are people describing the progress if you call it that almost a year later.

    >> reporter: ctamron, it's not unusual to see the buildings. there's their is some progress, depending on the perspective you're taking. there are 800,000 people living in camps. that is below a million for the first time since the disaster. certainly too high by anyone's measure. people are facing issues of safety, security and health concerns. the ultimate question is when they will be relocated and how they will find work. in terms of cleaning up the city, it's estimated only 10 to 15% of the rubble here has been cleared out. you see we're standing in front of some here. it's all over the city. people are still pulling bodies out of that rubble, because every pile of debris is essentially -- in terms of funds pledged to the reconstruction effort, 60% of the funds have been spent. a lot are concerned about the pace. you can't put first world expectations on the third world cautioning this is going to take a long time.

    >> quickly, mara, you spent time at an amputee center this week, what can you tell us about it?

    >> the earthquake created an estimated 2,000 amputees in haiti . it's a tough city to get around in the best of circumstances, so it's a challenge how to work and how to get through the day. we visit add center that provides all the services they need. fits them for prosthetics, makes they will on site and shows them how to use them. they are taking it one step at a time. we met a girl three years old who lost her leg when she was starting to learn to walk a year ago, now she's starting over again with a prosthetic.


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