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article imageFlood, then earthquake: Ecuador town suffers double disaster

By AFP     Apr 17, 2016 in Environment

First came the flood and then the "long, long" earthquake, a shaking so hard the two-story, covered market came down in a heap in this small town in western Ecuador.

Dazed residents began the week in flood waters up to their chests -- and ended it Saturday evening with a devastating 7.8-magnitude quake.

"It's only been a week and nature has punished us so badly," said Nelly, a 73-year-old who declined to give her last name.

At least 235 people were killed across Ecuador, the government said.

In Abdon Calderon, 180 kilometers (110 miles) south of the epicenter, at least two people were killed in the collapse of the town market.

"On Monday, water flooded the town. There wasn't a house that wasn't submerged. The water was up to our chests in the main avenue," Nelly said.

Then on Saturday, she said, the market came down "like a house of cards."

Too fearful to stay indoors, she spent the night in the streets. Now she finds herself standing outside the flattened market, hugging herself to keep warm as she tearfully recounted the town's double misfortune.

- Scream for help -

A short distance away a firefighter picked through the market ruin, looking for a way to retrieve the body of a man pinned under the mound of rubble and twisted steel.

"They've already taken the body of one poor little man out of there," Nelly said.

People walk past a car squashed by rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo  Ecuador on Apri...
People walk past a car squashed by rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016
Juan Cevallos, AFP

When the earthquake struck, she rushed into the streets and saw that the market had collapsed.

"How can I not cry?" she sobbed. "There was a person trapped who screamed for help, but then the screaming stopped. Oh, it was terrible."

Firefighters said when they arrived, the building had already been flattened.

"Two shakes and everything came down, all at once. We've found two victims so far," said Alberto Santana, one of the firefighters on the scene.

- 'God protected us' -

In the town of Portoviejo, hairdresser Fernando Chavez, 45, was in his home at the back of his salon with his wife and three children when its ceiling was crushed by the rubble from a neighboring building.

When the quake hit "we wanted to react but we didn't have time. We all got trapped in the dark and all we could do was press ourselves to the walls," he told AFP.

Then the walls too started to collapse.

Rescue workers search the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Guayaquil  Ecuador on April 17  2016
Rescue workers search the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 17, 2016
Luis Acosta, AFP

"We could not get out. The earthquake lasted two minutes and when it stopped shaking we started stumbling towards the door. We couldn't open it. It was blocked by rubble," he said. "It was horrific."

In the end the family squeezed out of the house with just a few scratches. Chavez's wife and children left to stay with relatives in another town.

It was a "miracle" they survived, Chavez said.

"The cloak of God protected us."

- Widows and orphans -

One of the victims in Abdon Calderon was 51-year-old Francisco Mendoza, known by his nickname Pancho, who had a stand outside the market on weekends.

His father, 73-year-old Colon Mendoza, said his son had just gone inside the market to use the bathroom when the quake struck.

"This earthquake was unlike any I've felt before. It was stronger, the house shook so much it scared me, it was a tremendous rattle."

"The earthquake was long, long," he said.

Choking back tears, he looked to the ground and said, "Now what's going to happen to Pancho's widow and two orphans?"

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