21 April 2016

Firsthand reports from Canoa, Ecuador after the quake

Posted by Callan Bentley

My mother-in-law, Wendy, lives in coastal Ecuador, in the town of Canoa. When Lily and I heard about the earthquake Saturday night, we knew we were unlikely to get any immediate word about her condition for several days.

Ecuador sits atop a classic subduction zone, where the Nazca Plate is being shoved eastward beneath western South America:

tectGoogle Earth screenshot, with USGS plate boundary lines, annotated by me.


The little red dot on the preceding map is Canoa, the town where they live. The moment tensor of the quake was consistent with that overall tectonic setting: it shows a thrust fault.

You can imagine how delighted and relieved we were the next morning to get second-hand confirmation from a friend in Quito that she and her boyfriend, Don, had survived unharmed.

Yesterday, we got a direct email from Wendy, recounting her experience. Wendy wrote:

Saturday night…seems like years ago…we went to Bamboo for dinner….(Bamboo is destroyed) the service was so slow, that we were just finishing our dinner when the earth exploded…I mean we were thrown about…couldn’t stand….Don kicked the table away from us cause it was smashing us….we got out and went to the beach…we got home as fast as we could….I think in shock….in fact we’re still in shock…the house was still standing…in fact it has very minor damage.  The earth continued to rock with aftershocks…the next morning we tried to check on friends…we are still trying to help friends….people are scared and on the verge of panic.

The area of Ecuador most shaken by the earthquake that wasn’t the epicentral region was Canoa:

shakeGoogle Earth screenshot, with USGS intensity contours, plus Canoa’s location


Today Wendy and Don were able to log onto Facebook somehow.

These photos were posted this morning by Don. This is their house (which Don built), which survived with only minor damage:



This was a newly-built three-story building which totally collapsed:



My Canoa geography is weak, but I think that this is a different view of the same pancaked building… Don reports it was three stories tall prior to the quake:



Don’s recounting of events (I’ve inserted a few clarifications in green):

Saturday night started off with a beautiful orange sunset, palm leaves blowing. Around 6:50pm Wendy and I were having a tasty mixed seafood spaghetti dinner at the Bambu Restaurant and Hostel. The lights started to flicker for a second, pause, and a normal 4-5 SoCal [southern California, where Don used to live] earthquake started for two seconds, by the third second there was a steep increase in the intensity. By the seventh second, with the table slamming into Wendy and I, with spaghetti and half a glass of wine already slid onto me, I tossed our table away as we held onto a pony wall below the new bamboo structure, telling Wendy not to move that we were in the best place to be. [A friend] had the Bambu restaurant build in the last year with stainless steel all thread holding it together in an amazing design… It held steady the full fifteen seconds of this earthquake…

As we were getting shaken, buildings all over the pueblo [village] were getting thrown down. Half the Bambu Hostel was down and we didn’t even know it. The new walking bridge over the river collapsed just 100 feet away and we didn’t see or hear it… Three and four story buildings were collapsing and trapping people below, one roof collapsed and killed eighteen people in a small church, the new market where we were planning on picking up butter after dinner was flattened and pushed twenty feet into the street. Luckily our waiter at the Bambu had forgot about us for twenty minutes, delaying ordering had likely saved us from becoming one of the many victims, way over 50 people [in Canoa; about 1/10th the total for the entire country] as of today. I heard that there was internet available at the new shopping center in Bahia de Caraquez, where I am now.

Power has been out for the past four days. Water which for the past six months has been coming [by truck] to Canoa on Friday night and Saturday night is now cut off. A three hundred meter landslide from the cliff above the Canoa – San Vincente Road stopped all traffic and people were being transported on the beach, which was going towards low tide. Phone service was down. On Monday, the fire departments started showing up in force from Chile and Spain and the military were setting a seven pm curfew. Looting started almost immediately on Saturday night, so most folks were going back to their homes to protect their few possessions.

It’s very, very rough there. Some more photos from Don:


A house where friends of theirs were when the quake hit:



A newly built house, totally collapsed and totally destroyed:



Interior of a friend’s house, also heavily damaged:



Mixed blessings with this house: the third and second stories stayed plumb and well connected, but the lowermost level took up the shear strain.



Don says this is the “three hundred meter land slide between Canoa and San Vincente, opened up the day after the earthquake, also folks are driving on the playa [beach] at low tide. Possible Costa Norte bus below the rubble, not confirmed.


My wife and I are very relieved that our loved ones are safe, but this ordeal isn’t over yet. The Red Cross is distributing aid to help those impacted by this large earthquake. You can donate here.