A Madera couple temporarily living in Ecuador felt the effects of a huge earthquake that killed at least 350 people and injured more than 2,000 on Saturday – despite being around 140 miles away from the quake’s epicenter.
Miguel and Alexis Sanchez moved to Montalvo in the Los Rios province on Feb. 29 to help other Jehovah’s Witnesses preach and teach locals about the Bible. The couple was lying in bed in their third-story apartment when they felt the first effects around 7 p.m.
We could feel the building swaying from side to side.
Miguel Sanchez said he thought his wife was nudging his leg, and she thought the same. The shaking then grew much stronger, and the couple realized it was an earthquake.
“We ran outside to the terrace together, and that’s when we could feel the building swaying from side to side,” he said. “Our next reaction was to get out as quickly as possible. The only thing we had with us was our cellphones.”
The city streets were dark and crowded.
“People were gathered outside their homes, some crying in fear,” Sanchez said. “A few ambulances zipped by us heading down the street, and many of our neighbors were starting up their dirt bikes and motorcycles to go check on loved ones.”
The earthquake – Ecuador’s most severe in decades – hit the northwest coast the hardest.
After the quake died down, Sanchez ran back into his apartment to grab his wallet, their passports and some water. They waited outside until the power kicked back on a little over an hour later. They felt a small aftershock around 2 a.m. the next morning but had not felt any others as of noon Monday.
Sanchez wasn’t sure if anyone in his community was injured or any buildings were seriously damaged, but he had heard that several houses in nearby Babahoyo had collapsed.
The earthquake – Ecuador’s most severe in decades – hit the northwest coast the hardest. A government state of emergency was declared in six provinces, including Los Rios, Sanchez said.
Thousands of relief workers have flocked to Ecuador to tend to the wounded, find those who remain missing and help those who are now homeless.
The couple moved to Ecuador temporarily to go door to door offering Bible studies and access to Jehovah’s Witness literature. It is not a missionary trip; they chose to pay their own way in order to help spread the word of God.
Sanchez said he has contacted two other couples – one from Madera and another from Salinas – and they also were unharmed.
The couple is currently gathering supplies at the Kingdom Hall in Montalvo to send to those hit hardest by the earthquake. Sanchez said that bottled water, canned foods, mosquito nets, insect repellent, soap, candles and matches are needed most.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses’ branch office in Guayaquil is coordinating volunteer relief efforts throughout the country, he said.