On April 16, 2016 at 6:58pm, my husband and I were reading outside on our second floor deck when we felt a small jolt. Earthquakes are common on the Ecuador coast. We glanced at each other then back at our books. No big deal.
Then a large jolt came and got stronger. Huge deal. We jumped up and made our way down the stairs quickly. No easy feat as the stairs, the house and the railing were all moving out of sync with one another.
We stood outside, watching and listening. The car was bouncing off the ground, car alarm screaming. The metal garage door seemed louder than the car alarm. Everything was moving, bouncing and banging.
Then silence and darkness. And fear. A lot of fear. Tsunamis frequently follow big earthquakes. This had been a big one.
The sun sets at the equator at about 6:30 every night. By 6:58, there is no residual light. The entire town of Puerto Lopez was plunged into darkness. Our home on a hill overlooked the town, now a sea of black.
We did a quick inventory. We were okay, the house and buildings were standing. A trip upstairs to retrieve flashlights revealed frightened cats and fallen dishes but nothing more.
Everyone living at sea level was heading for higher ground. Friends and strangers began arriving with varying reports. ¨The town is flattened!¨ ¨The streets are covered in bricks!¨ ¨There are big holes in the walls of my home!¨
Cellular providers were overloaded and no one could call friends or family. Our landlords, who lived downstairs, had been at a dinner party. They and all of the guests arrived and started the generator. With the generator, we had internet and a lifeline to news, friends and family.
Initial reports were all over the map. It was an 8.2 or a 6.9 or a 7.6. Epicenter in Esmeraldas or Manta or Jama, all north of us. A tsunami warning was in effect for the entire coast. The president declared a state of emergency.
Facebook enabled their safety check feature for everyone in the area. We all checked in as safe. We monitored the Ecuador emergency Facebook group, looking for news from others on the ground.
Sometime after Midnight, I received a text message from my cell phone provider urging me to stay calm. I had to laugh. It was probably supposed to have arrived hours earlier.
Throughout the night, there were terrifying aftershocks. A few people slept inside on beds, sofas, and chairs. Most of the 50 or so people sheltering with us would not enter the house. They sat or stood outside, some in tears.
Thankfully, the tsunami never came.
As the sky began to brighten at 6:00am, a group of us walked into town. We checked on friends´ homes while surveying the damage throughout town. Most buildings were standing.
Some had lost walls.
A few were piles of rubble or close to it.
The first floor of the local fire department collapsed. It had been an addition to the original structure, which still stood. The entire building later had to be taken down due to structural damage.
Eventually, we went home to begin gathering items and baking food for those who lost everything.
The earthquake was a 7.8, centered 27 km (17 miles) from Pedernales, a beautiful beach town. Pedernales is 200 km (124 miles) north of Puerto Lopez.
We were extremely fortunate that no one lost their life in Puerto Lopez that night. Communities north of us were not as fortunate. At least 676 people were killed and 16,600 injured in the 2016 Ecuador earthquake.