"It looks as though the city has been bombed."
The ground started to move. Fast, faster and then so fast it felt as though there were waves beneath my feet.
I smiled and thought "oh fun a small earthquake." Seconds later when I was hiding under the table, hugging my new siblings and trying to calm everyone down - I feared for my life.
As soon as the shaking stopped we ran to the gate and tried to get out into an open area. In all of the commotion, however, we couldn't find the keys. My host cousins and siblings were sobbing. They were obviously afraid, but were also thinking about their relatives who lived elsewhere in the city and who they were not sure had been as lucky as we had been. My host grandmother was reciting prayers over and over again asking for God to take pity on us while at the same time my host parents tried to calm everyone down and keep us safe.
After passing some of the children over the gate, but still not being able to find keys, a few of the adults and I decided to risk running through the house in order to get outside to safety. Not until that moment did I begin to realize the amount of damage the earthquake had caused.
Walking through the house, using the light of our iPhone (because electricity had been lost) we stepped over broken plates, vases, televisions and more. Making it to the other side we joined together with the rest of the family outside.
Everyone was still in shock, crying, hugging whoever was close by and trying to call family to make sure they were ok. For 5-10 minutes we couldn't contact anyone because the lines were not working. Finally, when people started to hear from their loved ones, the crying started to calm down.
I called my parents in the U.S. to let them know I was ok, and immediately contacted the rest of the Peace Corps volunteers around me to make sure they were ok. Thankfully no one was hurt. The relief I felt was outstanding. Unfortunately, I began to realize that not everyone had been so lucky.
The destruction is immense. The shopping mall, the hospital, schools and many homes fell through and collapsed. Walls cracked, entire second floors fallen on top of the first floor, and people stuck between. My school, which has been under construction for two years, may or may not have been destroyed.
Helicopters began to fly overhead - sounding a siren similar to an ambulance. People ran by on the sidewalks. We soon realized that walls around us had completely fallen through. Walking along the street with my host grandpa I witnessed firefighters trying to rescue people who had been stuck beneath a floor that had fallen on top of them. Later we were told, in that building alone, there were 2 people who made it out alive and 5 dead. The woman with the dyed hair who had been pregnant, among others.
My host father and uncle decided they couldn't just sit still knowing that we were ok, but others weren't. Having had experience with the Red Cross they decided to go and try to help as best they could.
The rest of us brought mattresses, pillows, water and more outside and spent the night under a tin roof. There were warnings that we may receive up to two more earthquakes, and not trusting the infrastructure we decided it would be safer to camp outside. We stayed outside Saturday and Sunday night. During these past few days I've felt at least 6 aftershocks, and to be honest I sometimes feel as though the earth has not stopped moving. Each time the ground begins to move, my heart starts to beat faster, my alert is turned on high and my fear rises.
Unfortunately, on Monday, Peace Corps decided it wasn't safe for us to stay in Portoviejo any longer. My wonderful host dad was kind enough to drive us to a city close by, where we then stayed in a hotel over night. It was wonderful to see the relief workers who were arriving from all over the world, but at the same time it has been incredibly hard being separated from my host family and community and not able to help.
I'm unsure what is going to happen to us from here. Honestly, that's not what matters to me. There are people here in Ecuador who have lost everything. Their houses, livelihoods and loved ones. People who are lacking food, water and electricity. People who are still stuck under buildings waiting to be rescued. I wish I could do so much more than I am able to do at this moment.
My body is ok but my heart is breaking.