Earthquake in Ecuador: Hope for survivors

Earthquake in Ecuador: Hope for survivors

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Ninja Taprogge, CARE Germany

One of the most powerful earthquakes caused severe destruction in Ecuador. But there is hope, because of people like Juan.
Jonel, 30 : “I was not afraid when the earthquake hit. I immediately felt that I needed to help.”

A small tavern in the heart of Jama, a coastal town of 20,000 inhabitants in the north-west of Ecuador. It is Saturday night shortly before 7 pm. Bar owner Jonel Marina stands behind the bar looking at his cell phone. He is using WhatsApp to write the mother of his 13-year-old son. A message appears on his display: “I have a strange feeling. The earth seems to tremble.” Jonel sets the phone to the side looking at his guests. While he is asking people of an earthquake warning, the walls are starting to shake.

Jonel rushes out of the bar. In the street he sees his cousin and his nephew pass. The strong vibration pulls the two to the ground, exactly where the road is tearing apart. “I did not hesitate. I immediately ran to my siblings and covered the body of my 16-year-old nephew to protect him. We were safe lying there in the middle of the road, but had to listen to houses collapsing”, recalls the 30-year-old four days after the disaster. The earthquake lasted only for over a minute, but it is the most powerful in Ecuador since 1987. With a 7.8-magnitude, it destroyed more than 1,100 homes in small towns on the north-west coast of the country.

When the earth calms down, Jonel hears the cries of the butcher’s family from the other side of the road. He jumps up. The family is trapped under the rubble of their own house. “They cried for help and I ran over to their home. I am a committed volunteer for the civil defense and relief operations. I am used to help people in emergency situations. Therefore, I immediately knew what to do”, explains Jonel. The butcher, his wife and their three children are knocking and screaming for help. Together with neighbors Juan manages to retrieve them one by one, luckily without any serious injuries.
Shortly after that, he makes his way to his own family. He wants to know if his mother survived the earthquake unscathed. “I ran as fast as I could and came out of breath when I reached my family’s home. I gave my mother an intense hug and was just happy that she had survived the quake”, says Jonel with a smile on his face. He advises his mother and his brothers to get into safety and hurries back to his bar, to help other people. On the road, he meets friends and neighbors. Jonel calls them to stay away from electricity and to put pressure on wounds to stop the bleeding.
Since the earthquake, Jonel gets back to his bar on a daily basis. The bartender has become a full-time rescuer. “The day after the disaster, I helped to pull the dead from the rubble. I recovered two women and a five year old girl, so that their families can bury them in dignity”, tells Jonel. “Now, I help to clear the streets of rubble every day. This is not easy because we lack excavators to get rid of the debris and urgently need masks to protect our respiratory systems.”
In the evening, the 30-year-old returns home. His house is located outside the city center. It is undamaged despite being very close to a landslide. He adds “I am so grateful. My family is healthy and I have a home to go to and sleep. I do not know when I can open my bar again, but right now, for me it is only important to help people. And I will not stop supporting my community until we are better.”


Jonel, 30, outside of his bar. His own house didn't get destroyed, but he comes back to the epicenter every day  to help people clean the debris from the street.