Church members counted among the dead following Ecuador quake

PORTOVIEJO, ECUADOR

At least eleven Latter-day Saints were counted among the hundreds killed in the earthquake that rocked the Ecuadorian coastline on Saturday, April 16. Thousands more Ecuadorians were injured or left homeless by what is being called the nation’s largest temblor in decades.

The Portoviejo Ecuador Stake and Manta Ecuador Stake were severely affected by the disaster. Five members of the Portoviejo stake died, including a branch president, his wife and their daughter. Their names have not been released.

A dozen LDS meetinghouses were also damaged during the magnitude-7.8 quake. At press time, it remained uncertain the degree of damage at the buildings or if they can be repaired.

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.”

Priesthood and welfare leaders from the Church’s Lima-based South America Northwest Area are working with civil authorities in Ecuador to deliver relief to affected members and others. Members throughout the country were coming together in “Helping Hands” efforts to prepare food and aid packages.

Local leaders have called on members to demonstrate Christian unity by mourning alongside those who have lost loved ones and working together to rebuild damaged cities and lives.

“The earthquake that hit Ecuador has brought much sorrow and distress,” said South America Northwest Area President Juan A. Uceda, a General Authority Seventy. “Nevertheless, there is a feeling of unity and greater faith among the Saints while the Church is sending food and water to those in need — members and non members.”

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

But when the massive, magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck Ecuador, 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 death toll, at press time, had passed 500, 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 locate people trapped under rubble even as the ground continues to shake. “There have been reports of 156 aftershocks,” Brother Donoso told the Church News.

There are 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 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 the mission home’s former housekeeper in Guayaquil, Lilian Hurtado, in the moments following the quake.

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

“Are you alright?” 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 reported somber 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.”

Latter-day Saints in Ecuador told the Church News they are anxious to help their fellow members and fellow countrymen and women. Brother Donoso said he gathered with other members on the day after the earthquake.

“Everyone was talking about how they can assist others,” he said.

[email protected] @JNSwensen