Hours after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Ecuador on April 16th, leaving more than 650 dead and over 16,000 wounded, countries from around the world instructed their security forces to help rescue survivors, deliver humanitarian aid, and remove bodies lying in the rubble.
In most cases, aid arrived on military planes from nearby countries, such as Peru and Colombia, and countries as far away as Spain, and in other cases the assistance arrived by sea aboard naval vessels. Peru, Ecuador’s neighbor to the south, has already provided 61 tons of humanitarian aid. The Air Force of Peru (FAP) used Hercules and Spartan aircraft from the Military Air Group No. 8 to ship the aid, while the Peruvian Navy also sent the vessel Tacna, its largest naval logistical support unit. The BAP Tacna is endowed with multiple capabilities, such as the ability to supply water and fuel to remote areas, carry up to 11,000 tons of supplies, and operate at a range of up to 30 days. Peru also provided Ecuador with three military helicopters that were assigned to the more isolated areas of the country.
The assistance from Colombia, Ecuador’s neighbor to the north, was commanded personally by President Juan Manuel Santos, who landed at the port city of Manta, one of the cities most affected by the earthquake, on April 23rd, together with approximately 25 tons of humanitarian aid brought in by four flights and two ships with food and water.
“[We want] to tell the Ecuadorean people [that] the Colombian people are here, ready to help in any way that we can. This help is only the tip of the iceberg... we will do what they ask of us and what we can do ourselves. It is in these difficult times when the true friends show themselves; and the Colombian people and the Ecuadorean people are more than just friends; we are brothers, which is why we are here,” Pres. Santos said on his arrival.
“[Ecuador's] corps of engineers are here working hard and have conducted surveys of critical areas, the overall infrastructure, and the current conditions,” Ecuadorean Rear Admiral Rafael Poveda, commander of the Naval Infantry, who is in charge of the deployment of military forces during the earthquake emergency, said in an interview with Diálogo.
“The complementary assistance that the international teams provided us was very good; [they have been] very professional, and the teams came from different countries, such as Colombia, Peru, Venezuela," said Rear Admiral Poveda. "A significant delegation also came from Mexico, as well as Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, El Salvador, France, Spain, and Russia. They have done an outstanding job.”
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, meanwhile, ordered the activation of the "Protocol for the Delivery of Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Services", sending a Federal Police Boeing 727 to Ecuador with a contingent comprising members of the Navy, Army, Federal Police, Mexican Red Cross, and Civil Protection Service.
The Argentine government sent a Hercules C-130 with 21 Air Force service members who were authorized to participate in the tasks of logistics and the supply of equipment for the identification of bodies. Argentina also sent tents, water purification tablets, blankets, basic care medicines, hygiene kits, and kitchen sets.
The Bolivian Air Force also used a Hercules C-130 to send humanitarian aid consisting of 3,000 liters of water, a half ton of medicine, and 50 search and rescue specialists from the SAR-FAB group, accompanied by a trained dog to search for survivors caught in the rubble.
El Salvador sent a group of 25 rescuers from the National Fire Department, the Police, the Red Cross, and three other Salvadoran first responder units.
Chile sent 49 specialists from the Search and Rescue Unit of the Fire Department of Chile to aid the affected population in Ecuador. It also sent six tons of equipment needed for search and rescue operations to find people trapped in the rubble.
Likewise, Spain sent an Air Force Airbus aircraft with 50 members of the Military Emergency Unit, rescue dogs, and autonomous lighting material. France deployed 64 civil rescue specialists and more than 30 specialized Soldiers for water purification projects. For their part, South Korea, Norway, and the Netherlands announced that they would be sending funds to help with the Ecuadorian emergency.
In addition to the formal protocols between the Foreign Ministry of Ecuador and their colleagues in other countries, Ecuador has assigned a military coordinator to direct the work of the various delegations that have arrived in the country with humanitarian aid, rescue specialists, and demolition equipment.
“There is ongoing coordination between the foreign ministries of these countries. There are already established protocols, and as a result of those protocols they can enter our country depending on the needs that we have," explained Rear Adm. Poveda.
"When the teams come in, there has been a military coordinator who directs the teams to the disaster areas that need the help of rescuers. That has been the method. There has been an ongoing rotation of staff based on the work being carried out. That control has been carried out by the Armed Forces.”
“After the [rescue] stage, which is almost complete, we move on to the next stage, which is related to the implementation of heavy equipment, focused on debris removal and controlled demolition,” concluded Rear Adm. Poveda.
Carolina Loza contributed to this story from Quito, Ecuador.