The western coast of Ecuador has undergone unimaginable tragedy. A little over seven hundred people have been certified as dead. Over two-and-half thousand people have been injured. About seven thousand buildings have collapsed. More than 26,000 people are living in tents--the Chinese government has donated nearly 10,000 tents. There have been over 800 aftershock rumbles, some as high as 6.0.
Four years ago I walked the streets of idyllic Puerto Lopez, which has a magnificent bay and glorious crescent beach. Now most of this charming resort town is mostly rubble with bodies, alive or dead, under cement blocks and steel girders. The garrulous beachside bars and languid cafes have disappeared. Hotels and businesses remain vacant amid implacable destruction. The town is a monument to refuse.
I stayed at the German-owned Hosteria La Terraza, which since then has become quite expensive. The hostel featured a swimming pool with a hillside mirage that over-looked the Pacific Ocean. From the middle of the pool it appeared as if the pool was seamlessly connected to the ocean, which was a mile away. The wooden cabins were primitive but charming. Plunging sunsets were unforgettable eye-popping postcards. Now there are no tourists, sun-glass hawkers, ceramic mask sellers, seaside bathers. There are only tears and gut-wrenching wails. Silence, not laughter, reigns. Puerto Lopez is just one of hundreds of towns destroyed by the 7.8 earthquake.
The Red Cross and Blue Cross have been mobilized, along with 10,000 Ecuadorian soldiers, yet the task remains immense. Venezuela, Colombia, and Chile as well as ten other countries have offered aid. The United States is sending food and a fleet of army corps engineers. One American and two Canadians are confirmed dead. People dig out bodies from collapsed buildings everywhere. Global Giving, https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/ecuador-earthquake-relief-fund/, in Washington, DC, has raised about $30, 000, yet this is a drop in the bucket. Damage is estimated at several billion dollars.
Last week, I accompanied a friend on a mission of mercy to Babahoyo, the tenth largest city in Ecuador. He donated funds from a small Foundation for the building of a school to teach local boys practical skills in plumbing, electricity, carpentry, house building. We met the local priest at the new gleaming bus terminal that was less than two years old. Built by the central government, it was the pride of the city. The terminal was one of the most impressive and efficient bus terminals I have ever been in. Now it is nothing but rubble. This situation repeats hundredfold for over a hundred miles along the west coast. Babahoyo is situated inland, a three hour ride from the coast.
Such is the enormity of the calamity which reaches even into the high Andes itself, especially the capital of the country, Quito, where severe water shortages and power shortages challenge many citizens. In a country that revels in an abundance of water, potable drinking water has suddenly become the most desired commodity. In Portoviejo a man buried under rubble used his cellphone to call his mother. Firefighters from Bogota, Colombia, pulled him from the rubble. Many people remain missing. There have been over 300 aftershocks and more are expected. As each hour passes, hope for missing survivors dwindles.
In the city of Manta, 33-year-old Sister Clare Theresa Crockett from Londonderry, Ireland, was leading a group of young trainee nuns to safety at a school where she worked when a stairwell collapsed. She and five of the young postulants died. Three injured nuns were rescued from the rubble.
Locally, here in Cuenca (which has not been affected), the population has generously responded with collections of clothes, water, and money from all of the Sunday church services in this city of half a million, which has 52 churches. But the first shipment of clothes in a truck from Cuenca was hi-jacked at gun-point in the mountains by a couple of Colombian thugs before the truck could reach stricken Guayaquil on the coast.
This remains a tragedy that is just beginning.