Many years ago I tried to get a newspaper in St. Paul, Minnesota to publish a picture of a bank robbery suspect three days after the bank was robbed. The editor there refused to print the picture even though I told him that we had technical difficulties and this was the first chance we had to bring the pictures to the newspaper. I remember the editor telling me, “Son, news that is three days old is not, “news” it is, “olds!””
Well, to heck with that editor – we have some olds to report and, since it is our blog, we will just do it.
First, some news. Tonight I was coming home from downtown to our new home when I noticed that our across the street neighbors (the Garcia family) were gathered around a table with candles on it. I pulled up to our gate and walked over and asked them if their lights were out. Ramon invited me up to the gathering and explained that they were observing a Catholic tradition of shutting off the lights on Saturday evening for one half hour to join, as a family, in prayer. I was a bit embarrassed and stepped away when Ramon invited me to join in the family circle.
I have been in many solemn assemblies of God-fearing men united in prayer, but I have never been more moved then I was tonight watching little Sol and Luna thank God for their safety and for their family. I was deeply moved when Ramon asked me to offer a Christian prayer in English. And then I listened intently as our good friends Ramon and Nura poured out their hearts to God for their country, family and many friends injured or lost in the recent earthquakes.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to the Garcia family for an experience in “true religion, undefiled.” Proving once again that, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
Now for some Olds!
Unless you live under a rock somewhere you have undoubtedly heard that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit near the city of Pedernales in northern Manabí province last Saturday evening. What you might not have heard is that the initial quake was followed by forty-two other tremors and earthquakes ranging in magnitude up to 6.2 with a reported death toll of now approximately 646 people. Those who have worked in the hardest hit areas fear that the latest death total estimates are woefully low.
As you can imagine there are thousands of stories coming out of a disaster like this. We have many of our own to tell. Unfortunately, at least at the actual time of the initial earthquake Mary’s story differs from mine. That is because early last Saturday morning we heard from a friend in Salinas that she had located and purchased a therapeutic wax warming machine that Mary had been looking to buy. Our friend in Salinas picked one up in Guayaquil and Mary and she were working to figure out a way to ship it to San Clemente and get the money transferred to Salinas.
I had been looking for a chance to take the scenic bus tour down the coast, so I volunteered to ride five hours down to the bus station outside of Salinas and pickup the wax warming unit. It was a beautiful sunny day and I arranged to get a window seat so that I could take pictures all the way down to Salinas. I took off at nine o’clock in the morning expecting to be back by nine that night.
Oh what a beautiful scenic ride it was and I thoroughly enjoyed sitting like a dog half hanging out the window snapping photos of some of the most beautiful scenic coastline I have ever seen. One day I will sort through those pictures and do a post recording that trip.
On the return trip shortly after sunset just north of Puerto Lopez the bus came around the bend into a small town and I noticed that I had bars on my phone and started to call Mary to let her know my progress. Before I could dial, Mary called me. I could hardly understand her voice as Mary sounded like she was having a heart attack and could not breathe. Between gasps for air Mary told me that she had barely made it outside of our home escaping falling glasses and bits of mortar that were falling everywhere. The earthquake she described sounded like it was the end of the world and here I was sitting on a bus approaching Puerto Cayo.
As Mary spoke I noticed people running out of their houses into the roadway and all of the lights on the road and in the houses went out. I was probably fifty miles away and apparently the earthquake that Mary felt in San Clemente was strong enough to knock out the electricity and create panic that far south. I tried to calm Mary and assured her that I would make it home as quickly as I could.
The problem with making it home quickly is that this monster of an earthquake severely damaged the roads. The bus sat parked in the intersection as reports came in from motorists that the mountain roadway up to Jipijapa had many slides and was impassable. The bus driver finally heroically opted to take a back dirt road on a flatter course and set off for Portoviejo.
The bus moved out of cell phone coverage area and the only sound on the bus came from the barely audible tones of people praying for their families.
As we neared Portoviejo and people were able to use their phones we started to hear more and more tales of misery and destruction. With virtually everyone in Ecuador trying to use their cell phones at once, it was frustrating and often impossible to connect as the system was overloaded. So I could only catch Mary briefly and let her know that I was going to make it home that night.
As we entered Portoviejo the scenes from the bus window were not encouraging. Entire buildings had collapsed blocking roadways. Lights were out all over the city and people were walking about in shock. After trying scores of times I got hold of our taxi driving friend, Roberth and learned that he and his family had survived the initial quake and their home still stood. I asked Roberth if he could possibly meet me at the bus terminal and drive me to San Clemente.
Roberth and his family love Mary and me and would do anything to help us, but Roberth said he did not think it was possible to drive to San Clemente and said that he would instead try to get to the terminal and bring me to his house to sleep that night.
Anyway there are lots of videos and newscasts photos showing how badly Portoviejo was damaged by the quake so I won’t go into great detail here describing it. What is amazing is that the bus driver was able to maneuver the bus around many detours and got us to within two blocks of the terminal at about nine o’clock.
I debarked the bus into utter confusion and began walking toward the terminal in the hopes that Roberth had been able to get there. I heard Roberth calling my name and we walked together to where his taxi was parked with his wife and two sons waiting inside. The family did not want to be apart so they all came to pick me up. Roberth insisted that we should return to his house for the night, but he had not heard the panic in my Mary’s voice and I did not want to be apart from my family either. So I asked him to get me out of the main city and as close to San Clemente as possible.
As we drove Roberth told me that when the quake hit he was trying to drive home when he heard a rumble and noticed that the building next to his car was beginning to topple. He hit the gas and just missed being crushed by a multi-storied building which fell on top of the cars just behind his.
After barely living through that horrifying experience less than two hours earlier, my friend loaded up his family into his taxi and ventured back out onto the perilous roadways to pick me up. I am reminded of another scripture that begins, “Greater love has no man than this…”
I had no desire to ask for further sacrifice from Roberth and his family, so when we got to a bridge just outside of Portoviejo and found that the police were blocking traffic and were not allowing any cars to pass. I thanked Roberth and his family and set out on foot to get back home to Mary. At that point I was still about thirty or thirty-five miles from home.
It was pitch black darkness outside as a slight drizzle set in and I made my way without a flashlight along the shoulder of the road toward the bridge. A police officer called out to me to say the bridge was not passable, but I just acted like I did not understand what he was saying and walked on. He was too busy with emergencies and traffic control to be further preoccupied with the crazy gringo walking around without a flashlight and let me pass.
We saw a video of the damage in Portoviejo the other day and it had a picture of the damaged roadway and bridge that I walked over that night. The picture was taken the day after the quake. Luckily it was dark when I was walking so I could not see all of the damage. I concentrated on just putting my foot down carefully on the shifting surface and slowly walked closer to our home. (Perhaps if I had been able to see the extent of the damage I might not have tried to cross.)
God has always watched over me closely and He was with me that night. I made it to the other side of the bridge where cars were being stopped and turned around. I knew that if I got to a point where friends from San Clemente could come and pick me up I would be alright. The trouble with that plan was that it was becoming more and more impossible to get any phone connection. Along the way I met a young lady from Bahia and a man from Charapotó. We joined forces and caught rides in the back of pickups and crowded cars.
After several mini-miracles we made it to Rocafuerte and finally got through to Mary. Then I got through to Ramon who agreed to come pick me up in Rocafuerte. Just after talking to Ramon Mary called me back and told me Wilmer, our caretaker was coming to get me in Pepe’s van. After nearly three hours of stumbling around with no ride we now had two vehicles coming for us! I called Ramon back and advised him he could stay in San Clemente with his family.
At about one thirty in the morning I was reunited with Mary. I walked though our home and saw the walls were cracked and shifted, but seemed to be secure. So we cleaned up a path to the bedroom and prepared to get a little bit of sleep. Just before we stepped into the bedroom another significant quake hit that we later learned was near Canoa. And so, the saga continues…
As I mentioned, Mary has an entirely different tale to tell about falling to the ground in the front room of our home unable to even crawl to the doorway as the quake rumbled on and on for almost a full minute, about tsunami alerts, about many nerve rattling aftershocks and other independent quakes and of sitting alone in front of our damaged home before Wilmer arrived to check on her safety. I will try to get her to record her thoughts and experiences for a future post, but she still gets sick when she recalls the absolute terror that had her in fear that the end of the world had arrived.
We have had a life experience that one would never covet nor wish on an enemy. Still through it all we have come to appreciate the beauty of man’s humanity and the love of a graceful God.
Life is still good in Ecuador!