On Saturday, April 16, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the coastal region of Ecuador, my home country in Latin America. Although the epicenter of the earthquake was near the Ecuadorian coast, it was felt across the whole country.
As of Friday, April 24, the Secretary of Risk of Ecuador has reported at least 654 dead and 16,601 injured. According to authorities and volunteers in the disaster zone, this number is likely to reach the thousands.
This is the largest tragedy in Ecuador since 1949, when an earthquake hit the country in its Andean Region. The Geophysical Institute of Ecuador has reported so far over 600 aftershocks, some over magnitude 6.
The epicenter of the earthquake was registered in the localities of Cojimes and Pedernales, the northern zone of the province of Manabi. Manta and Portoviejo, two of the largest cities in the province, are severely affected.
Due to this disaster, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency. This allows the military to control and organize citizens to provide order and logistics.
Moreover, an acute state of emergency was instituted by the government in the provinces of Santa Elena, Manabí, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas y Los Ríos; all provinces harshly affected by the earthquake. After 5 days of anguish, fear, and turmoil, my mother Gisella Viteri Belletini was able to contact me. She narrated her experience as follows:
“I was with your brother (Andres Mejia, 14 years old) in the house. He was playing in his small computer, and I was watching The Voice. At around 7.00pm, we felt the ground shaking. At first, I thought it was only a small tremor, typical of this season. When I stood up to grab your brother to go outside, that’s when I noticed it was a strong earthquake.
The movement threw me to the ground, and I had to crawl towards the door to hug your brother. He was screaming, asking for the shaking to stop. All I can remember is this huge uproar, like hundreds of bombs falling in the neighborhood.”
Gisella was able to grab Andres and my grandmother, and run towards open field. Gisella recalls how everything inside the house got completely destroyed: “Once outside, I panicked. I noticed your sister (Oriana Mejia, 16 years old) wasn’t home. I knew she was inside the small movies place downtown.” Gisella says she ran desperately to find someone willing to take her downtown, but of course, no one wanted to. Luckily, a friend took her on a motorcycle to downtown.
“Once downtown, everything was chaos and turmoil” she says. “I screamed to find your sister, but all I could see was people crying, buildings falling down. It was a nightmare, I only though about the worst.” Luckily for her, my sister managed to call my mom and the call connected for a few seconds.“ She told me she was helping people out of the rubble. Many perished in front of your sister’s eyes.”
But the worst was yet to come, my mom told me. “Once the shock of the earthquake finished, the struggle started. There was no food, no water, no electricity.” This was the thematic for the week following the earthquake. Various areas remain without help, and people are still missing. “You can smell death in the air,” a volunteer in the area told me. “People need coffins, families are mourning their relatives on the streets.”
The most outstanding event from this earthquake is the amount of solidarity and generosity shown by the whole country. The private sector has donated millions of dollars. Even the poor people without any possessions whatsoever have donated to help the coastal region of Ecuador.
The international community is also sending their help through food, water and volunteers. For example, Mexico sent their elite rescuer team Topos (in English “The Moles”) to help rescue people still under the rubble.
The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has also instituted a series of fiscal polices to finance the crisis. An increase in sales tax from 12% to 14% will be in effect throughout the country, except the affected provinces. Moreover, people will have to pay one day of their salaries for a whole year, and asset utilities are also subject to a unique tax payment.
At Union, Eliza Burbano, Ana Isabel Carranco and myself, Pierre Castro (all Ecuadorians studying at Union College) started a GoFundMe campaign.
All funds will be sent directly to Bahia de Caraquez to get water, food and medicine. As of Sunday April 24, the campaign has made $4,970 dollars. The goal is to reach $10,000 dollars, and donations of any size are well received in the following link: https://www.gofundme.com/juzkmysc
“We are also receiving physical donations. We are planning on a big scale campaign once we finish the GoFundMe goal. The GoFundMe was a gut reaction to the earthquake, but we want to help as much as possible with a larger campaign with Union. We are confident the Union College community will help with their solidarity in these times of need.”