Twice punished, quake-struck town copes with death, disaster

2016-04-17 22:07
A collapsed house in Guayaquil western Ecuador. (Jose Sanchez, AFP)

A collapsed house in Guayaquil western Ecuador. (Jose Sanchez, AFP)

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Abdon Calderon - First came the flood and then the "long, long" earthquake, a shaking so hard the two-storey, covered market came down in a heap in this small town in western Ecuador.

Dazed residents had begun the week in flood waters up to their chests, and ended it Saturday evening with a devastating 7.8-magnitude quake.

"It's only been a week and nature has punished us so badly," said Nelly, a 73-year-old who declined to give her last name.

At least 233 people were killed across Ecuador, the government said.

In Abdon Calderon, 180km south of the epicentre, at least two people were killed in the collapse of the town market.

"On Monday, water flooded the town. There wasn't a house that wasn't submerged. The water was up to our chests in the main avenue," Nelly said.

Then on Saturday, she said, the market came down "like a house of cards."

Too fearful to stay indoors, she had spent the night in the streets. Now she found herself standing outside the flattened market, hugging herself to keep warm as she tearfully recounted the town's double misfortune.

A short distance away a firefighter picked through the market ruin, looking for a way to retrieve the body of a man pinned under the mound of rubble and twisted steel.

"They've already taken the body of one poor little man out of there," she said.

When the earthquake struck, Nelly said she rushed into the streets and saw that the market had collapsed.

Scream for help

"How can I not cry," she sobbed. "There was a person trapped who screamed for help, but then the screaming stopped. Oh, it was terrible."

Firefighters said when they arrived, the building had already been flattened.

"Two shakes and everything came down, all at once. We've found two victims so far," said Alberto Santana, one of the firefighters on the scene.

One of the victims was 51-year-old Francisco Mendoza, known by his nickname Pancho, who had a stand outside the market on weekends.

His father, 73-year-old Colon Mendoza, said his son had just gone inside the market to use the bathroom when the quake struck.

"This earthquake was unlike any I've felt before. It was stronger, the house shook so much it scared me, it was a tremendous rattle."

"The earthquake was long, long," he said.

Choking back tears, he looked to the ground and said, "Now what's going to happen to Pancho's widow and two orphans?"

Read more on:    ecuador  |  earthquakes

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