This morning, after 7 hours on the night bus from Quito, I arrived in Canoa, Ecuador. This town is well known for pristine beaches stretching out from vine-covered cliffs, incredible ceviche and now, earthquakes.
Canoa is at the epicentre of the 7.8 earthquake that hit Ecuador on April 16th, killing over 270 people and injuring thousands. Arriving at 5am, even in the dark, I could see the destruction immediately, not just in terms of the fallen buildings and rubble, but also in the tents set up in the main square – people who sleep in the middle of town under plastic tarps on pavement, because they have nowhere else to go. Felt even more strongly was the feeling of desperation, evident in the flashlights roaming the streets. Due to increased theft and even some violent crime, the local authorities walk the streets in the dark trying to prevent looting and theft of stupid people like myself who get off a night bus at 5 in the morning with nowhere to go because every place to stay in town is, at best, under repair.
Feeling a bit intimidated I walked to the hotel owned by a friend’s friend, only to find it locked and dark. Fortunately they had a street light and were tucked mostly out of view, so I put my bag down and waited for the sun to rise.
With the sun up, I explored town a bit and found my way to the All Hands volunteer base where I’ll be helping with recovery efforts. Usually they don’t bring people in so early, however due to the great need here and the total lack of salvageable housing for most people, they’re getting started quickly, doing both assessment and starting projects at the same time. With the military, police, other aid groups, and locals all having different ideas of how to manage resources and time I can already see that a high degree of patience will be necessary, but at the same time it’s amazing to see people coming together to help each other.