Monday, April 25, 2016

El Terremoto, Sismos, y Re'plicas (The Earthquake, Earthquakes, and Aftershocks)

It had been an enjoyable birthday.  I went with my wife to an almuerzo by the Rio Tomebamba here in Cuenca, hosted by two friends of ours, the Vaughns.  My birthday card was meaningful and given with love and care.  To top off the day, Carolyn Anne and I went and volunteered at Hogar Miguel Leon, a home for the orphans and the elderly here in the El Centro of Cuenca.  We had done several things we enjoyed doing. . . eating great food at Nuna, walking along Simon Bolivar in El Centro, and volunteering with the elderly Cuencanos and Cuencanas at Hogar Miguel Leon - and that last one for the first time for the both of us!  We had enjoyed a full but relaxing day.  

Carolyn Anne was sitting at the table enjoying a Skype session with some friends of ours from Michigan, and I likewise was at the table, then desktop computer desk when I felt a movement up. . . then down. . . the up and down some more. . . then left. . . . then right. . . and then I knew we were in an earthquake.  It's happened a few times before here in Cuenca, so not anything new.  Not what we had expected moving here, as my research showed that Cuenca was in - except for the Amazon region - the safest part of Ecuador to avoid experiencing any earthquakes.  

It continued to move the floor, knocking a couple of books off of the computer desk shelving unit.  Left and right, up and down. . . the motions continued.  I told Carolyn Anne, "Earthquake!  We have an earthquake!"  We need to sign off and attend to business, I remarked to our friends from the United States that we were Skyping to on our laptop with.  They thankfully sent us an email asking how we were doing moments later.  

I sized up the situation here: going out via the balcony was a death's wish. . . several stories downward to a certain death.  The elevator to our new modern condo building likely would not work, or lose power when we needed it most.  That left the stairs.  I remembered the 1994 Northridge Earthquake situation with an apartment building right next to Cal State Northridge near the epicenter of that famous and deadly quake.  The people in the top floors did quite well in surviving, and the people in the bottom two floors fared poorly or were dead.  I decided we would stick it out under the door frame of the kitchen, next to the entrance.  I was just about to call my wife to that location for sheltering in place when. . . 

It stopped.  Just.  Like.  That.  We had dodged a severe bullet, thank you God!  We caught our collective breaths and hugged.  

Immediately one of our expat neighbors who knew us, and knew we were from California's earthquake country, came knocking.  She was terrified out of her wits.  This was likely the largest earthquake this easterner (United States) had ever been through.  I assured her that she would be OK, and to relax.  Don't know if she took my advice or not, but I didn't see her anymore that eventful Saturday evening. 

Dawn came, and it was immediately obvious that Cuenca had come through the quake extremely well.  No signs of broken windows, walls, roof tiles, or really anything at all.  The City of the Four Rivers had emerged virtually completely unscathed, I learned later.  Needless to say we were all talking about el temblor as we greeted one another - Cuencano, Cuencana, o extranjero/a - at Iglesia Verbo that Sunday morning.  We quickly learned that several folks we knew among the natives had relatives that lived in the affected northern coastal zone that was at the center of the devastation.    

The week just passed was full of news of rescues, survival stories, and sadly death and devastation.  As time passed, it became evident that the Ecuadorian government was not in itself up to the task of fulfilling all the human needs in the areas most deeply affected in and near the coast.  The Ecuadorian people were willing and ready to help, and help they did.  Along with them has been the expat population, especially the one that resides with us in Cuenca, who at least one report says has been very generous in giving of their funds, water and food, and supplies.  The international community has also been helpful in the sending of funds, donations, and other needed supplies, with countries as far flung as South Korea, Israel, as well as ones in the Americas such as Canada and neighboring Colombia.  The UN is here and present with its relief efforts, too.  Ecuador is part of the community of nations, and has friends in its time of need.  

Christian ministries from the United States are here assisting those in great need in coastal Ecuador, including Samaritan's Purse, Compassion International, and World Vision.  I especially appreciate the quick work and advanced planning of Samaritan's Purse, whose practical work in disaster assistance I have admired from afar for many years.  Now I am in the same country - Ecuador - that is receiving their expert help.  They are far from the only ones providing help, and as I often say, "Ministry is a team sport," so together with so many other agencies, NGOs, volunteer groups, and governments, the need will be met.  Practical help that saves lives and cares for those in need are first priorities, and then the medium range activities that lead to rebuilding and restoring communities may take place.  I think most everyone involved agrees with that line of thought.  

The coordination of effort in the midst of a national disaster the size of this earthquake is so necessary to producing success in the relief efforts.  Already there are technical and logistics experts from several countries present, hopefully communicating and coordinating together in a unified nonduplicative way.  The US is here in this effort, among other activities offered and accepted by Ecuador, including USAid.  

In terms of Social Networking, coordination and agreement is not as easy, and some of the moderators of the Ecuador related groups I am a member in have had to issue warnings such as "no armchair quarterbacking of the first responders and people in the field providing assistance will be tolerated."  There's always someone who is of the mind to argue and pick a fight over something that at the moment truly is of no sizable consequence whatsoever. . . but they're everywhere, and have to be dealt with.  One of the admins of another group I'm in made it clear - speaking from a survival mode - that too much unnecessary traffic is taking place, too many people are coming into the affected areas creating extra demand for water and food when those supplies are already few or nonexistent, and to get help to everyone, not duplicate effort to some and leave beggars for water, for instance, at the side of the road literally thirsty.  You can tell that admin has had a difficult time of it post-earthquake.  Prayers for this dear soul.  

All over Cuenca one could visibly see the effects of the caring for the victims of the great earthquake at the coast.  Coral Hipermercardos had Cruz Roja Ecuadoriana volunteers to receive both nonfood donations from other stores at Mall del Rio, but also food and nonfood donations from purchases made in Coral itself.  Supermaxi (grocery chain) had at all its locations donation tables as well for the victims.  Parque Calderon had donations going all day and all evening. . . maybe longer than that.  The Oficina del Alcaldia - the mayor's office - had donations delivered to Cuenca city hall in El Centro.  Universities, colegios (high schools), elementary schools, malls, and even our own landlady of our condo building had supply drives to help the earthquake victims.  

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa declared an eight day period of mourning for the earthquake victims which started this past Saturday.  Flags are to be flown at half staff.  He's already toured the coast and made his presence known to the people, giving more than one speech on what comes next.  The week after the earthquake he ordered all bars and nonessential activities that would normally require a certain level of police presence - including sports matches (yes, fu'tbol) and the like to stop activities and in the case of bars, stop selling past 8:00 PM so as to allow for the police forces to be used in the affected coastal areas of Ecuador.    

As you can tell, this is kinda like Ecuador's September 11 moment.  It wasn't an enemy attack, but it does look like a war zone in some of the affected areas in the larger towns and coastal cities.  They (and we) will never forget.  

It has been good to hear from so many loved ones during the last several days, friends and family alike.  I've frankly lost count. . . and that was after two days.  Thank you for caring about us and Ecuador and its people.  Facebook has an app called "Are You Safe?" that they send to members in affected disaster areas, we found out soon enough.  I marked that we were safe, as Cuenca was as well.  Never knew that Facebook did such a thing.  Now we know.

Much of our communication has been on Facebook regarding the quake's aftermath, but some of you have emailed me too.  Remember we have two Skype accounts - regular video Skype with a computer and Skype Voice, where we can call you via Smartphone in the USA but I don't think you can call us, as Skype doesn't support service that way yet.  I understand no one calling us via regular telephone channels (AT&T, Verizon, etc.) as that's just plain expensive.  We're reachable, folks.  I even have a TripAdvisor account that allows for free private message communication should the need arise in an emergency.  Lastly, one may add comments to this very weblog.  I've published 12 of them to date.  

Ecuador has suffered its worst natural disaster since 1987.  Some are starting to say it will take years to get back to normal, and I'd tend to agree.  Call it Ecuador's Hurricane Katrina, and you'll understand that kinda timeline.  Let's hope and pray that recovery comes sooner rather than later, though.  

If you can actually come to Ecuador and visit - and even help in the relief efforts - in the medium to long term time frame, I'd love to hear from you.  Groups are always better.  I speak from experience (1985 Mexico City Earthquakes - two of 'em - short term church missions volunteer with El Ejercito de Salvacio'n [The Salvation Army] of Mexico).  I likely can connect you to those whom you could collaborate with in providing relief.  Please let me know if you'd want to do that, and may God bless you as you consider such an effort.     

No comments:

Post a Comment