Massive, Deadly Quake Hits Ecuador

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 18 April 2016

Article Highlights

  • The largest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades struck April 16, killing hundreds and injuring thousands.
  • All missionaries are reported safe.

Ecuadorians such as Edwin Donoso live in a seismic land—they're accustomed to the occasional tremblings that sway hanging lights and rattle the furniture a bit.

But when a massive, magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Ecuador on Saturday, April 16, Brother Donoso knew immediately it was a highly unusual, terrifying geological event.

“I was with my family on the second floor of our home when everything started shaking,” he said. “It was very frightening.”

A former stake president, Brother Donoso and his family live in the interior town of Otavalo, more than 100 miles from the quake’s epicenter on Ecuador’s Pacific coast. Still, the movement was forceful enough to send the Donosos and their neighbors scurrying from their homes. “We all got outside quick,” he said.

The earthquake was the largest to hit Ecuador in decades. The death toll at press time was at 350, with thousands more injured. Meanwhile, distraught relatives were utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to post photos of “Los Desaparecidos”—the missing.

Rescuers were working furiously to find people trapped under rubble even as the ground continued to shake. “There have been reports of 156 aftershocks,” Brother Donoso told the Church News on Monday.

The Church released a statement soon after the disaster.

“We are mindful of the destruction and loss of life caused by this earthquake and are praying for the people of Ecuador,” said Church spokeswoman Kristen Howey. “Because of the widespread devastation, it is difficult to determine how members and Church facilities have been affected. We are grateful to report that all our missionaries in the region have been contacted and are safe.”

There a five missions operating in Ecuador, a nation with more than 234,000 members. The Guayaquil Ecuador Temple is the country’s only temple. Plans were announced at the recent general conference to build a second temple, in the capital city of Quito.

The Associated Press reported that the earthquake left a trail of ruin along Ecuador’s Pacific coast—buckling highways, toppling air traffic control towers, and flattening homes and buildings. Beyond the death and injuries, thousands have been left homeless.

The quake was powerful enough to be felt in neighboring Colombia.

“Our grief is very large, the tragedy is very large, but we'll find the way to move forward,” said Ecuador President Rafael Correa. “If our pain is immense, still larger is the spirit of our people.”

The cities of Manta, Portoviejo, and Guayaquil were among the hardest hit by the temblor. Utah resident Randall Ridd has deep concern for the people living in those communities. From 2005 to 2008, Brother Ridd presided over the Ecuador Guayaquil North Mission. Many of the areas and members that he came to know and love have been severely impacted.

Brother Ridd—a former member of the Young Men general presidency—maintains a Facebook page for the missionaries and members he worked with in Ecuador. When he learned of the catastrophe he posted a Facebook message saying he and his wife, Sister Tamina Ridd, were praying for “the good people of Ecuador.”

“In a short period of time there were over 160 people reporting to us that they were well,” he said.

Brother Ridd was communicating, via text messaging, with Lilian Hurtado, his former housekeeper and cook in Guayaquil, in the moments following the quake.

“We just had a very strong earthquake,” she texted.

“Are you all right?” Brother Ridd responded.

“Yes, we are fine. But throughout the country, we don't know. We've heard that a bridge collapsed and power lines have fallen. … I thought my house was going to fall.”

In a later text, Sister Hurtado shared grave news.

“There is a lot of death. Things are bad. The government is asking us to sleep with our clothes on in case of aftershocks.”

Sister Lillian Hurtado of Ecuador, pictured in 2014, has worked for almost four decades in the mission home in Guayaquil. She has been in touch via text messages with former Ecuador Guayaquil Mission President Randall Ridd regarding the status of members following the earthquake of April 16. Photo by Jason Swensen.