Monday, Apr 18, 2016

36 hours post Quake

I woke up with a pounding headache. It kept me up most of the night. We slept on the porch floor again, but this time we had pool chair cushions to lie on. As I’m lying awake in the predawn light, I am trying to remember what day it is. How many days has it been since the Quake?

It feels like several days have passed, yet as my mind strains to remember what day it is, I realize it hasn’t even been a full two days. What comes into my consciousness is that we are all ok and regardless of my headache and my stiff back, I have it good right now.

I haven’t had a shower since Saturday morning and I just want to get wet, clean my face, wash some dried blood off me from some minor cuts I got during the quake. Another blessing, the farm has showers and I get to have one.

It is amazing how getting clean and feeling fresh helps change how I feel. As we gathered for breakfast on the farm porch, we decided it was time to talk specifics about our plan today and the next few days coming.

There are 16 of us staying here. Eight of us expats: me, Heidi, Easton, Don and Donna, Jim, and Miriam and Dave. And the eight members of Walter’s family who live here, and whose home we have invaded.

We need to go back into town and pack out any remaining food stuffs from our condos and bring it to the farm. Since at this point anything left in our refrigerators is spoiling, it would be a good idea to empty our fridges and throw out the spoiled stuff if we can.

Because the security wall fell down at our place, and the concierge has left because his apartment was destroyed, the building is left susceptible to looters. If we can help remove the TV and DVD player from our place for Don and Donna it might save them from being stolen later. We need gasoline for the generator on the farm, and diesel for the truck. We need to find a gas station today that is opened.

We headed into Bahia mid morning to go back to deal with what was left at our condos, and find gasoline. The service station we passed on the way into town was closed. No gas. We continued on to Bahia, but we could not get in!

All traffic was being diverted. We tried to tell the police that we needed to get our things, then I tried again and told them we needed medicine and supplies that was in his condo of one of our amigos (which was true). They said we would have to walk in.

Walking in wasn’t going to help us get all we needed out of our respective condos. We decided to try later in the afternoon to get back into Bahia. For now we drove over the long bridge that spans the Rio Chone into San Vicente. There was damage there too, some structures totally destroyed. It is a much smaller community and buildings are made with more wood than cement, so it seemed to have held up better in the Quake.

We still need gasoline for the generator and diesel for the truck. We met a local man we know who works with Doug (Donna’s brother), and he told us of a gas station just outside of San Vicente that had gas. When we arrived there was a very long line. Trucks, cars, cabs, people just walking with plastic jugs all lining up to buy gas.20160418_111717

20160418_11180120160418_111814As we were close to the pumps we could see the Ecuadorian Marines monitoring the crowd. There were people who walked up and tried to cut in line, the others in line would start yelling and a Marine would walk over and kick the guy out. However, people did try to hand their plastic jug to friends in line, sometimes it worked, more often it did not.

I spoke with three Ecuador Marines while standing in line and was told that there are 88 of them sent from Guayaquil to Bahia and San Vicente. I asked what was happening in Bahia that we could not get into town. They said they had orders to evacuate the town because another large after shock is expected, based on tectonic plate data from the scientists in Ecuador.

While waiting in line we heard from a man who Don and Donna know who gave us an update on Canoa, the small surfing village 20 minutes north of Bahia that I have written about previously. He said that the main town of Canoa is gone. Two tourist hotels totally collapsed. Gas explosions from one restaurant hotel started a fire that spread to adjoining buildings.

Remember that the Quake was about 7 pm Saturday night, and in Canoa, Saturday night is filled with tourists from all over partying and vacationing for the weekend. So far the body count in Canoa is at 30, and no one has removed the rubble of 2 and 3 story buildings that fell flat like a stack of pancakes. No one can yet know what the death toll in this favorite village along the Pacific will be.

There is also a town about 30 minutes north of Canoa called Mantel. Heidi and I visited it when we came to Ecuador in 2014. It no longer exists. This was all somber news. Standing in this long line for gas, listening to people flare up and argue with each other, I could feel the tension and stress building among the people affected by this 7.8 earthquake. Communities would be forever changed and the people in them are experiencing a lot of uncertainty right now.

Things are so chaotic. Buildings are potentially unstable; the next aftershock is unknown and, as stated by the Ecuadorian marines, a big one is expected. Yet, our belongings are right there. A quick run up the stairs and we can get them. We are all in this situation. What things do you risk going back in a building to get?

If we would be in the building and an aftershock brought the ceiling down on top of us, we would immediately realize the foolishness of being in here. Still, it seems calm now and it might be a good time to get our clothes, medicines, computers, and other things that we could use in the days ahead. In anticipation of us bringing back many of our belongings, we decided to buy wood to build shelves in the storage containers on the farm for what we are able to retrieve from our condos in Bahia.

Cash is becoming an issue. The bank machines are down, banks are closed of course, and people want money for what they sell. The guy we got the lumber from wanted all the money up front. We were able to talk him into a little more than half owed. Don asked if someone has some cash. I reached in my pocket and gave him $100. That satisfied the guy to let us have the wood.

We need to get to a town that has cash machines available because I am now down to less than $150 bucks. If we need to get away from Bahia I will need cash to help that process along. Being low on cash in a crisis is no bueno. I know that I can get more money in Chone which is a 30 minute drive from here. It is interesting how my anxiety level ratchets up as the cash in my pocket dwindles down.

Our cell phones are out of paid data on them. Here in Ecuador the phones are loaded with money for minutes and data. When the phones are running low, we have a variety of places we can go, pay more money, and load them up. However, the power is out and many places are not opened. The internet is down so access to loading them online is not an option.

An option that does exists is to buy phone cards from the tiendas and load them through the cellular network. We headed into town to get cards. We passed people who were wrapped around an entire block waiting to charge their cell phones from a single construction grade extension cord that had several power strips plugged into it.20160418_101811 And there sat probably a hundred people waiting their turn. Having a source of power is so key in a crisis. Without it communication comes to a halt.

After no success finding phone cards at the first two tiendas, we scored at the third. I bought $60 worth, got our phones loaded, but then couldn’t get the actual data loaded so I could use my Whatsapp. The cell service keeps going in and out. We tried for 30 min in town but had to get back to the farm and there is no reception there. Contact with my family and friends will have to wait until tomorrow.

On our way back from town we passed the gas station we had tried to get gas at yesterday. They still had no gas but were supposed to get some in today. It is 5 pm, there are 16 cars and trucks in line, plus 12 motorcycles, plus people standing with jugs. The station is closed. No gas has arrived today. These people have been waiting in the hot sun and no one is coming.

Our friends Roy and Melody stopped at the farm. They are on their way to Guayaquil, and from there flying back to the states. Their condo was heavily damaged in the quake, both exterior and interior. So many of their belongings inside had been destroyed. Broken glass filled the rooms from mirrors, tables, and lamps that were thrown to the floor. This is the same condo Easton was in during the tremor and where we were 20 feet from the outside door.

Roy and Melody

Roy and Melody

What is left of Roy and Melody’s belongings are in their unit. This morning while they were packing up the Fire Department came by and made them leave. A first pass triage has determined Dos Hemisferios is unsafe and no one is allowed in. Two hours later Roy and Melody returned and talked their way past the guard at the building to at least be able to go in and zip shut the suitcases they had filled before being kicked out, and take with them. They locked the door and left instructions with friends on what to do with their things if and when anyone can go back in.

I have really grown to love and appreciate this couple. I was sad to see them go. More of the reality of what is happening here just set in. It makes me sad.