This week has been very tough for our family in the aftermath of the earthquake in Ecuador. Rolando’s family all live in Manta, a city on the coast of Ecuador that has been devastated. The official death toll for the country is now around 600 people with many more people missing (the estimates vary dramatically from hundreds to over 1000). It has been a roller coaster week with lots of overwhelming and conflicting emotions.
Everyone is safe
It was very difficult on Sunday to wait for news of everyone seeing images of the tragedy and destruction and being so far away. I had to force Rolando to turn off the news channels as it was like torture to see how bad things were and not know who from our family was okay. We are so unbelievably lucky that none of Rolando’s immediate or extended family have been killed or injured. I am so, so thankful that they are okay. There are so many people who have lost loved ones, it is completely heartbreaking.
Rolando’s is from a big family. His mum, sister and nephew live together – their house has been badly damaged and is no longer safe to live in. His younger sister, brother in law and their three children have lost their home. The back section of the building is completely gone. For now Rolando’s extended family are in the evacuation centre, in a high school. They are sleeping in the playground which is sheltered by a metal roof. I think it helps that all of the extended family are together so are supporting each other to stay strong and keep spirits up.
Getting in touch
Communication is getting easier which really helps. The mobile phone companies sent out trucks with generators so people could at least charge their phones. Skype made all phone calls free for a couple of days. We have had quite a lot of calls with family and friends. Despite everything the first thing Rolando’s mum and sisters want to do when we Skype us is see and talk to our kids – this bit of normality makes me smile.
Coping with the aftermath
There have been a lot of aftershocks. Some quite minor but some quite severe. Last night there was a scale 6 tremor (the initial earth quake was 7.8 magnitude). I can only imagine how scary it is to feel the ground keep shaking.
The electricity supply is still not restored to all parts of the city. Food supplies were starting to run low by the beginning of the week and the price of food and bottled water skyrocketed. Some banks reopened on Tuesday so Rolando’s family were able to access the money that we had sent and buy some supplies.
The city is in a really bad state. Some areas have been completely destroyed. The rescue operation is now focused on removing bodies from the rubble. There is a smell of death on the streets. We have one friend that we have not been able to make contact with we know he lived in one of the worst hit neighbourhoods, we are fearing the worst.
Amid the destruction there are some stories of hope. Rolando’s best friend’s niece was unaccounted for. She was working in one of the most badly damaged neighbourhoods. She was found alive in the rubble on Tuesday.
We are worried about the psychological impact of everything on Rolando’s family members, especially his mum. She is traumatised and the aftershocks are making her feel very scared. She was able to speak to a counsellor in the evacuation centre earlier in the week, I hope this gave her some relief. She doesn’t want to leave the centre too much because it is very upsetting to see the state of the city.
Finding somewhere to live
The biggest challenge for the family now is to find somewhere safe to live. There are so many people in the same situation as Rolando’s family so accommodation is scarce. After much deliberation the plan is that they will travel to Quito, the capital, which has not been so badly affected. Rolando’s brother in law has family there who can help in the short term. It might be a little while until the roads from the coast to the capital are passable. It is so sad for them to leave the city where they have roots but at the moment it is too difficult to stay there.
We have been completely blown away by the support we have received from people. I was very shaky when I went to work on Monday but I wanted to be their to keep busy. I was okay until someone asked me if I was okay. My work colleagues bought me flowers, a card and donated money. Clients of Rolando’s business have called and messaged to ask if his family are okay. People have put cards through our door with messages of support and people have stopped us in the street to ask if Rolando’s family are safe.
I set up a Just Giving page on Tuesday to raise extra money to send to Rolando’s family. The donations will help with buying supplies and finding safe accommodation. I was a bit nervous about asking people for money but a lot of people wanted to know what they could do to help and this was the most practical way we could think of.
I am just blown away with the amount that people have donated, within less than 24 hours we had reached our initial target of £200 – the total now after 3 days is £455. I have sat and looked at the donations page and cried quite a few times. It is overwhelming to see that people, some who I don’t know, have contributed. I am so grateful to everyone who has shared the link and donated. In a horrible situation we really have seen the best of people. I know that the money will really make a difference to Rolando’s family. They are so touched that people in the UK are thinking of them. If you want to make a donation the donations page is here.
This week has really put life into perspective. We have been incredibly lucky. All the people that we love are safe amid everything else that is the only thing that really matters.