Sunday, April 17, 2016

Riding Out a 7.8 Quake in Ecuador

Around 8:00 in the evening on Saturday, April 16, we were sitting in the living room in the house we rent in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, watching television. As happens about every few weeks in this part of the Ring of Fire, the house started shaking. Usually, we look up for a second, and it stops. This time, it didn't stop. We got up and walked outside. I mean, the house we're renting is made of block and concrete. If the ceiling starts falling, it's not going to be some two by fours and drywall. It's going to be big chunks of concrete, and I didn't want that stuff falling on my head. I'd rather take my chance with the ground opening up and swallowing me, which is much less likely than getting killed by falling concrete. As we were walking out the door, the electricity went off. That's the first time we've lost electricity from an earthquake. We lose electricity frequently, but the earthquakes usually aren't strong enough to knock anything loose.

The only other large earthquake I've ever experienced was in Kentucky, back in 1980. That one was reminiscent of this one. It lasted a good long while, and things were shaking pretty good. There was one major difference. In Kentucky, when we went outside to see what was happening, we could no longer feel the ground shake. I was expecting that same sensation. Wrong! I could feel the ground shaking so much that I felt like I was on roller skates!

Soon after getting outside, as I was passing under the tree to get into an open spot, a little dark ball dropped to my feet. When I bent down, I saw that it was Blue, the Amazon parrot that lives in the courtyard. Blue's flight feathers have recently been clipped, so he can't fly. Apparently, the shaking knocked him out of his tree. When he jumps down, he flaps his wings to slow the fall. This time, he just fell like a lump. As a general rule, he's Bruce's buddy. He only comes to me if I'm holding food. This was different, though. When I put my hand down, he came running to it. His claws dug into my hand for dear life!

When the ground finally stopped shaking, I walked toward our neighbor's house to see if they were okay. It was dark, and I didn't have a flashlight with me, but I could hear the sobbing before seeing anyone. The family of four were in the courtyard. Dad was holding the toddler wrapped in a towel. Mom was clutching the 7-year-old and crying. The girls were very subdued. I asked if all was okay and put my arms out. Mom and daughter ran into them, just terrified. Blue headed up to my shoulder, and I hugged the girls and soothed them as much as I could. Dad explained that it was Mom's first major earthquake, and obviously, the kids had not experienced anything like it before. The toddler was clutching Dad for dear life and looking around with great big eyes. I was scared, but these folks were terrified, so I had to keep my cool. It was about that time that I realized I hadn't put on shoes, and that the gravel in the courtyard was painful on the feet.

We all came to our house with Dad stopping in theirs to pick up some clothes for the toddler. Apparently, she was getting a bath when the earthquake hit. Dad left Mom and the kids with us and went to check on the other folks in the apartments, who were all fine. After getting the baby dressed and calming some herself, Mom went out to help Dad. We gave the girls some cookies and played hand figures against the flashlight shone against the wall. A little bit later, Mom and Dad came back to get the kids and go back to their house, and we put Blue back outside in his tree (after he pooped down my back).

Within about 30 minutes, Dad was knocking on our door again. Apparently, people in low-lying areas close to the beach were being advised to go uphill in case of a tsunami. It was a two-hour window. So, Bruce and I changed into our street clothes from our pajamas. I went to the neighbors' house to see if they were ready to go. They had grabbed a change of clothes each and some water. The 7-year-old had packed her cat in her backpack. Just before we were getting in the car, the cat found he could open the zipper. So, I decided that the backpack would stay with me so I could hold the zipper closed. The last thing we needed was for that cat to get loose inside a little Chevy Spark holding six people! When we got up the hill, and the toddler realized the cat was in the bag (yes, pun intended), she got very upset that we didn't also bring her pet chickens! I finally got her convinced that there probably wouldn't be a tsunami, and that we were only up here “just in case”, so her chickens would be fine. She felt good knowing that we had left Blue behind, too, so obviously, the gringos don't think there's any reason for concern.

While we were on the hill, we learned that the earthquake was a 7.8, centered in Esmeraldes Province, which is just north of our province, Manabi, and reaches to the Colombian border. We also learned that power had gone out for the entire country of Ecuador, and that there was major damage in Quito, Guayaquil, and the airport tower had crashed down in Manta. There were also claims that they were predicting another, larger quake sometime in the night. We had no way to confirm any of those claims with no internet and no radio in the Spark. After the two-hour tsunami period was over, we went back home. There were a couple of aftershocks that sent me sailing downstairs, but nothing major. They were over before I got down the steps.

The electricity came back on around 2:00 a.m., but our internet wasn't working. By the time I woke up, around 7:30 a.m., there was still no internet, but there was still electricity, so I took a shower. I tried to call our internet provider, but apparently, my phone had run out of minutes. Bruce and I decided to go into town and survey the damage. We had been told of some homes that had been destroyed in el centro and on the malecon. While we were out, we wanted to pick up some meds he is running low on and see if our internet provider was in the office. We decided to start with breakfast at the Hotel Victor Hugo, hoping they had wifi so I could let people know we were okay.

When I learned that they had had internet and power all night, thanks to generators, I felt bad for not having thought to go there last night. I knew there would be several people who would be highly concerned and that there would be some who would feel better knowing nothing had happened to us, but the lengths some of those folks went to – tracking down other people in Puerto Lopez or locating my daughter to see if she had any news or making contact with random people on my friends list on Facebook to see if anyone had any news – blew my mind. Don't get me wrong. I don't feel like I'm alone or that few people care about me. I'm just rather pragmatic, believing that it's natural for people to be most concerned about that which impacts their daily lives. Boy was I humbled! By the time I had touched base with everybody who had messaged me, my eggs and toast were cold. And, I didn't even look at the posts on my Facebook wall or e-mails I had gotten until we had internet restored at the house!

After breakfast, we drove around town looking at the damage. There was surprisingly little in our little fishing village. Some, obviously, isn't going to be visible on the outside walls or the facade of the building, but I was expecting to see more.

The fire station had damage, but they had it roped off and put tarps up, so I couldn't get any photos of it.

The front fell completely off of this room. There was further damage to the building on the side walls and probably in the back.

The church in el centro took some damage on the steeple.

Insert 968, 966

This is one of the newer hotels in town. One whole side dropped.

Several buildings lost upper stories like this.

Most buildings directly on the malecon, including the beach cabanas and the new bath houses that are being built, appeared to be left untouched.

This relatively new home sustained some damage on the upper terraces, at least.

Now that electricity and internet have been fully restored and I have been able to see the published accounts, we were very, very lucky. The epicenter was about 250 miles north of our village, and damage was extensive even further away than we are. Since I have compared this earthquake to the one when I was growing up in Kentucky, Bruce has checked the differences. The Kentucky quake was a 5.2, but we were basically on top of it, making it feel like a 7 (according to reports). This one was a 7.8, but we were about 250 miles (about 400 km) away. There is also over 30 years of time elapsed between the two. I still think my experience of the intensity of the shake was similar. The differences were primarily that this one was in the dark, and I knew what was happening this time.

We also recently just experienced some minor, latent damage, though there have been some aftershocks going on. A few minutes ago, we heard a single knock on the back door. When we opened it up, some of the concrete decorative facade has fallen off of the side of the rooftop terrace. We told the girls to be careful walking around the sides of the house for the next few days. We don't want any pieces falling off and hitting them in the head.

The girls have been clingy today and are very thankful for how lucky we all were last night. Even Blue is starting to settle back into normal, though he is still a little fluffy today. He's mostly thankful for the apple!

1 comment:

  1. happy that you are safe. thanks for your updates.