In response to a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the country’s Armed Forces fanned out across the worst effected provinces, providing humanitarian aid and medical services.
Authorities in Ecuador announced the deployment of 10,000 members of the Armed Forces and 3,500 police officers to assist in rescue efforts and to maintain law and order after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the Andean country on April 16th. The latest reports estimate there are at least 413 dead and more than 2,650 wounded, a figure that is expected to rise as rescuers dig through the rubble of the hundreds of collapsed buildings across the country of 16 million inhabitants.
The U.S. Geological Survey located the epicenter of the earthquake at a depth of 19 km (11.8 miles), 27 kilometers (16 miles) south-southeast of Muisne, Esmeraldas province. The earthquake was reported to also have hit southern Colombia and northern Perú, but no casualties there have been reported. In Quito, located about 170 km (105 miles) from the epicenter, the earthquake was felt for about 40 seconds, and frightened people fled buildings into the streets.
Armed Forces in action
Since the earthquake, the Armed Forces have built numerous mobile hospitals and set up temporary shelters in Pedernales and Portoviejo, two of the worst affected cities. The Ecuadorean Air Force (FAE, for its Spanish acronym) used its C-295M and Cessna aircraft to transport troops to the port cities of Manta and Guayaquil that were severely damaged by the earthquake.
“Our aircraft are serving as air ambulances and Troops deployment transportation,” Major María Eugenia Naranjo, FAE spokesperson, told Diálogo. “We are also transporting food, medicine, and all that is needed in the affected areas.”
FAE has also deployed a Boeing 727 to fly Troops in humanitarian missions to the cities of Latacunga, Jumandy, and Esmeraldas, and used two Bell 206 helicopters to bring much-needed medical supplies to the cities of Manta and Pedernales, where many victims are still under the rubble.
“[Our time here] is undefined. It is the time the country needs us,” Major Naranjo said. “This is [going to be] long. We are coordinating with local authorities to help in the evacuation of the wounded.”
The government also dispatched 200 firefighters to Pedernales, in the province of Manabí, one of the closest population centers to the epicenter, and 300 more to other cities of Manabí, according to a statement from the Secretariat of Risk Management. The military also mobilized K9 units to aid the search for survivors and bodies.
Getting supplies and rescue crews to emergency areas has been a challenge especially because many major roads were destroyed or were blocked by fallen electricity poles. “We are also doing our helicopter flyovers in affected areas,” Major Naranjo said.
Private sector help
“Because of the issue with the roads, our aircraft are being employed at 100 percent capacity. Some commercial airlines are helping too,” Major Naranjo said in reference to the Ecuadorean TAME and the Colombian AVIANCA airlines that have provided aircraft to help with logistics.
A platform at the International Mariscal Sucre Airport in Quito was converted into a base of operations to send aid to the victims of the earthquake. From there, they have moved 685 people, including rescue workers, police, firefighters, and support staff. So far, three aircraft — two FAE’s CASA aircrafts and a Boeing 727 — have been used in these transfers, reported El Comercio .
Help from the commercial airlines began early on Sunday, April 17th, and the government has placed ambulances at the airport ramp, waiting for the wounded arriving from Manabí. To help with communications, all mobile operators are allowing free text messages for customers to reach out to loved ones in Manabí and Esmeraldas provinces, Ecuadorean Vice President Jorge Glas said.
Soon after the earthquake, the Ecuadorean government declared six provinces — Manabí, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Santo Domingo, Santa Elena, and Los Ríos — under a state of emergency. All school activities were also canceled in the six provinces, and a national soccer tournament, the most popular sport in the country, was also canceled until further notice. At the same time the government mobilized security to those six provinces, it also requested international aid.
Carolina Loza contributed to this story from Quito, Ecuador.