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Expats Experience Helping After Ecuador’s Earthquake

Expats Experience Helping After Ecuador’s Earthquake

When the earthquake first started we immediately felt it at our home in Quito. This was my second earthquake, but by far the biggest. For those that have never felt an earthquake, it is a strange feeling. The ground is not supposed to move, but does. It’s like your whole world is an ant farm that some kid decided to shake up to watch the destruction of the little ants. You are truly at natures mercy.

While dealing with the dizzy sensation, we ran outside for safety as did everyone else. The streets filled with people fleeing their homes. At first everyone was joking about it, but after almost a minute it hadn’t stopped and you could see in people’s faces that they were beginning to worry.

After it was over, we returned to our home and continued our routine. We didn’t realize that miles away, on the coast, many people’s whole world had come tumbling down.

News reports of the destruction began to roll in from Guayaquil and other bigger cities, but places like Portviejo were black holes with no internet or electricity and no news reports.

This elderly lady had told us her home had collapsed and no help had arrived because they could not see her house from the road.

This elderly lady had told us her home had collapsed and no help had arrived because they could not see her house from the road.

When we woke up the next morning we began to see pictures coming from these areas and the first reports of fatalities that would only rise in the upcoming days.

My wife is from Portoviejo which turned out to be one of the worst hit areas. After contacting her family members we were relieved to find out they were all ok even though their accounts of the earthquake were a lot worse than ours.

Over the next day, the donations and mobilization of Ecuadorians was amazing to me. Reports began pouring in of where to donate all around the country. We collected what we could give and brought it all to Parque la Carolina in Quito where hundreds of volunteers from every walk of life were loading supplies on volunteered trucks, buses, construction equipment to head to the coast. It seemed like every Ecuadorian was in someway contributing.

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Donations in Quito, Ecuador.

Over the next week, things in Quito went on as normal while on the coast bodies were being pulled from the rubble, looting was occurring, aid trucks were being robbed, and the homeless looked for places to sleep.

As in any disaster situation there is a time period between the initial destruction and the moment help arrives. With no military or police presence and people that were desperate for the essentials like water, the disaster areas became dangerous areas that kept some volunteers away. To make matters worse large aftershocks became frequent which caused many to panic and flee to higher land for fear of tsunamis.

For us in Quito we felt like we weren’t doing anything and for my wife I believed it bothered her that her hometown was destroyed and in chaos, meanwhile we were perfectly fine and normal in Quito.

There were many reports of aid volunteers panicking when they arrived in these areas, due to the shock of seeing the dead, who just added to the problem. Also, there were reports of kidnappings of volunteers and robberies. As with these things, it is always hard to tell what is truth and what is rumor.

Homes like this were destroyed along the coast.

Homes like this were destroyed along the coast.

As we followed volunteer organizations social media pages, we got the impression that many towns were still not getting enough aid either due to them being inaccessible or the aid was going to the bigger and more affected areas.

We began collecting supplies and a week after the quake headed to Atacame near Esmeraldas on the coast.

Esmeraldas was the epicenter of the earthquake, but suffered minor damage compared to some of the towns farther from the epicenter. With earthquakes the power spreads out from the epicenter and the waves become longer causing more destruction as it expands. If you can imagine a stone dropped into water the waves become bigger as they spread out.

The real damage in Atacame was to the tourist industry. Besides the locals and aid workers the party beach town was now somewhat of a ghost town. All the tourists had fled and  the locals, who are reliant on this industry,  were and are left questioning their future. Some of the biggest hotels were damaged and will not be able to accommodate for some time.

hotel-damage-blog

Hotel damage in Atacames.

With our donations we drove along the coast for hours looking for what places needed aid the most. We found a large presence of aid organizations like the Red Cross, UN, etc who had set up large camps with doctors, volunteers, and other help. We began to wonder if anybody even needed our help. But, as we drove farther we began noticing small makeshift encampments along the roadside where the homeless and sick were seeking refuge.

At one of the first ones we arrived at we were met by a doctor who explained that almost all of their supplies were gone. Most of the aid trucks had passed their small encampment by traveling to the bigger and more affected areas. We knew our aid was not enough for the number of people camped there, but at least it might hold them over until more aid arrives.

Makeshift camps were set up along the coast.

Makeshift camps were set up along the coast.

The larger majority of people in the camp were kids who were just roaming around the camps bored and with nothing to do. Any sort of entertainment they had was probably lost in their homes. The girls in our group decided to make games for the kids to at least distract them for bit and help the parents. It was nice to see how happy they were just to have some sort of fun.

Kids playing in the camps.

Kids playing in the camps.

Overall, I hope we helped in some little way. Also, I would tell other people who want to help to not be discouraged from traveling to these small camps with aid,  even if it’s just to entertain the children. There is a lot of people saying don’t go because you’ll just be in the way. This is partly true. There are first responders still finding people and you need to stay out of their way. But, you can do the smaller tasks like cook food, play with the kids, etc. so don’t be discouraged from going to help in these ways.

We are still collecting donations and in the coming weeks is when they will be most needed. When the news stops covering this story donations will slow when they are needed the most. Many people lost everything they have and also do not have any jobs or money left. What do you do with these people?

We will see what the future holds for Ecuador. Already the political blame is being thrown around. That is the hard thing about natural disasters. There is no one to blame for the destruction, so where do you direct your anger? The country was dealing with an economic crisis before the quake and this may have broken the countries back. To make matters worse the outspoken president has a few times forgotten to bite his tongue when touring the disaster zones, which has angered many people. Only time will tell how Ecuador can rebuild and how this will affect the politics and economy. But, I do know if Ecuadorians continue to stand united as a people, as they have to mobilize donations and help, they will be alright.

If you would like to donate so we can continue to help gather aid please donate at our Go Fund Me page here. 

kids

Playing games.

Distributing vitamins.

Distributing vitamins.

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