Ecuador: What is it like to experience an earthquake?

A street in Jama, a town near the epicentre of the earthquake. People are camping in makeshift shelters outside of town but come back during daytime to save what's left in their houses.

CARE staff member Doris Guerra was in the capital Quito:

I was at home in Quito with my husband and my little daughters. Suddenly, the earth started to move and it became stronger and stronger. Things started to fall off the shelves and the furniture was shaking, the windows made terrible noises. My daughter started to cry and the sound of everything shifting and falling was horrible. “How can we get out?” said my daughter.

When an earthquake hits it is very difficult to stay calm. Most of the people panic. Even hours later people were still screaming and scared when there were little movements.

The earthquake might be over. But the fear that something might happen sticks with you.

Especially for children the situation is very difficult and they are extremely afraid of the aftershocks. It is difficult for them to understand what is happening. They cry and it is difficult to calm them down.

Some children have lost their parents. They need psychological support to overcome their sorrows and to recover. But this is a very long process. In the meantime, we have to make sure that they are not experiencing even more harm.

A street in Jama strewn with rubble after the earthquake
The town of Jama, with a population of roughly 20,000, is in one of the hardest-hit areas

Nubia Zambrano Mendoza was at a CARE workshop in the earthquake zone as it happened:

On April 16, it was like the earth opened its heart. All I want right now is to forget, but this will be impossible.

We were 40 people from different cities in a place called Las Penas in Esmeralda. We were talking about culture, identity and discrimination. We could smell the sea from the distance... Suddenly, we felt a sharp breeze.

It lasted only for a few seconds, but it will stay with us for an entire lifetime.

The earth was moving, as if the sea had gotten inside it. Everyone prayed, hugged each other, was crying.

The noise of the earth was so loud, like the sound of a million hearts beating to overcome the suffering and pain. I saw a father and his son embracing from the very first second of the quake until it finally stopped. They held each other so closely.

Despite all the horrific scenes, it is so good to see how people support each other.

Then, the father checked whether his son was fine and told him: “Now we need to start helping others and calm them down.”

We grabbed our suitcases and rushed away from the seaside. We heard the sirens of ambulances, screams full of fear. It started to rain heavily. We finally arrived at a gas station, but there was not really anything that we could buy there. Someone distributed crackers and water.  

It was the longest night I have ever experienced. It was absolute horror.

When dawn was breaking I felt only slightly hopeful and relieved. Mostly, I felt like we had to address the reality of the destruction we would be seeing and all the difficult tasks ahead of us.

People try to clear rubble from a street in Jama
People in Jama are trying their best to clear the rubble, but they lack specialist equipment

CARE’s response

Fernando Unda, CARE Country Director in Ecuador, provides an update:

“Several days of heavy rains have hindered search and rescue efforts leaving many of the deceased still under rubble. This greatly increases the risk of contaminated water and water-borne illnesses, as many people are sleeping out in the streets. Our teams will be focusing on disease prevention as they distribute water purification tablets and provide temporary water tanks.”

Lucy Harman, CARE Emergency Team Leader, speaking from Jama, a town near the epicentre of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake which was one of the strongest the country has ever experienced:

“Clean water is one of the biggest needs. People have made signs everywhere asking for water.”

It’s like a ghost town here. Everything is destroyed, so everyone is sleeping outside the town in makeshift shelters and the smell of death permeates the air.

“In addition to clean water and disease prevention, over the coming days, CARE will be in the remote areas hardest hit by the earthquake providing temporary shelter materials and helping with rubble removal.”

Update 22 April:

CARE will work closely with the government to help prevent the spread of water-borne and mosquito-borne diseases. The plan is to distribute CARE packages for families, including mattresses, mosquito nets, mosquito spray and other hygiene items as soon as possible, most likely early next week. Countless families have lost their houses and are currently camping outside of the cities in the open, on wet grounds, in makeshift  shelters, thus being very much exposed to mosquitoes and other threats. It continues to rain from time to time, and when it does, big puddles of water appear on the streets - a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.


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News and stories are provided by CARE staff working to support our emergency responses and long-term development programmes.