As the death toll in Ecuador rises past 600 after a massive earthquake, one Fresno Pacific University student is doing what he can to help his native land.
Jorge Chedraui, 23, and his friends were on their way Tuesday to Manta – one of the cities hit hardest by the magnitude 7.8 quake on April 16 – to deliver supplies as he spoke with The Bee briefly.
“It’s so bad here – it looks like war,” he said. “People are sleeping in the streets. There’s no lights. Buildings have fallen down. The dead people – they’re just lying in the street.”
The death count rose to at least 602 on Friday, surpassing the dead from Peru’s 2007 earthquake and making this the deadliest quake in South America since a 1999 tremor in Colombia killed more than 1,000 people. Ecuadorean officials listed 130 people as still missing and the number of people left homeless climbed to over 25,000.
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Chedraui said smaller cities near the Pacific coast – Canoa, Pedernales and Portoviejo – are the most horrific to go into.
“Everything is decimated,” he said. “They just aren’t equipped to deal with the dead people. The bodies are just piling up, and they start to smell.”
Chedraui was in his native Guayaquil, about three hours from the epicenter, when the quake hit. He is taking the semester off from Fresno Pacific, where he studies business on a soccer scholarship. He was the team’s leading scoring during its first NCAA Division II tournament bid last fall, and will return for his senior season later this year.
Guayaquil sustained minor damage, and no one who Chedraui knew was hurt, but he knows many Ecuadorians weren’t so lucky.
Many of the universities in and around his town have taken the lead in gathering supplies from local communities, Chedraui said. His group has been transporting these supplies – food, water, clothing, medicine – once or twice a day since Sunday.
“We’re not specialists,” Chedraui said. “We can’t go into buildings and bring out people. We’re just taking the supplies and doing what we can.”
It just keeps getting worse as we’re driving closer to Manta. There are less and less people on the roads.
The entire country is “paralyzed,” Chedraui said. Schools, universities and government buildings are closed. Many private companies have effectively shut down, as employees are working half-days or not at all. Many people in Chedraui’s city have left to help with relief efforts or to be with loved ones, while others simply aren’t leaving their homes out of fear.
“A lot of the police have left to help, so people in my city are afraid,” he said. “People are scared to go out in our city. It’s really unstable.”
Because most of the first responders have flocked to the cities and towns hit hardest, the military has spread throughout the country to maintain order.
Chedraui said looting was a big problem immediately after the earthquake, and several convoys similar to his were hijacked before the military stepped in. Other countries – the United States, Mexico, China and dozens more – have joined the relief effort, allowing Ecuadorian soldiers to focus on security.
“We’re all working together,” Chedraui said.
The soccer star plans to make more supply trips on Wednesday before taking a break Thursday, as he has not been getting much sleep. He hopes to help his neighbors build tiny houses, which could provide temporary shelter for some of the thousands left homeless, and transport them to affected areas.
However, Chedraui must be careful.
“We aren’t going to just go,” he said. “We need to know that we are going to be safe. We travel carefully and in a group. Sometimes we ask the military to help or watch us.”
He plans to continue helping until Ecuador regains some stability.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.