Ecuador's Earthquake Preparedness

April 29, 2016

As the devastating consequences of the recent earthquake in Ecuador continue to roll in, it is increasingly evident the depth of destruction that Ecuador faces. On April 16th an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude struck the coast of Ecuador near Muisne, in the province of Esmeraldas. The towns of Manta, Pedernales and Portoviejo were also hit heavily. The capital, Quito, felt the tremors but was less affected.

Ecuador is susceptible to earthquakes because it lies on the boundary of the Nazca tectonic plate and the South American plate. The Nazca plate is currently subducting the South American plate. Knowing this, it is disheartening to see that the country is ill-prepared for such catastrophes. Countries such as Chile and Japan that are susceptible to earthquakes and have suffered devastating ones recently have preparedness plans that Ecuador lacks.

For example, Chile is located over several tectonic lines but excels in absorbing minimal damage. Chile experienced devastating earthquakes in February 2010, April 2014, and September 2015 but they’ve learned from them. They practice drills several times each year, have well marked evacuation routes, and they build their structures up to impeccable (and well-enforced) codes that require buildings be able to withstand a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Just before Ecuador’s trauma last week, Japan faced a 6.5 magnitude earthquake followed by a 7.3 magnitude one only 28 hours later. Like Chile, Japan has learned from their past, specifically the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami that took nearly 16,000 lives. In Japan’s schools they practice drills monthly and the children experience earthquakes in simulators that let them know what to expect and what they would feel. Buildings in Japan have deep foundations and seismic shock absorbers. All public buildings are equipped with earthquake kits and all TV and radio stations broadcast immediate coverage. Furthermore, their communitarian community lends aid directly and their economy has a nice cushion for such events. Now, death tolls in these countries end up in the dozens rather than in the hundreds or thousands.

The death toll of Ecuador’s initial earthquake left a death toll of 655 people (a number that continues to grow) and thousands more injured in its wake. The initial earthquake has been followed by storms and flooding as well as an additional earthquake the following weekend with a 6.0 magnitude. They have also experienced 700 aftershocks. Locals are in need of food and water. President Correa says that they have the supply but the issue is distribution. The estimated damage to the coastline and all of the towns affected is expected to be between $2.5- $3.8 billion. The solution for paying for the damage will be to raise taxes for those who live in areas that were unaffected and selling off some of the country’s assets.

Yet people are resilient. For example, they are taking hope in the Virgin Mary statue that still stands in Montecristi, Ecuador at Our Mother of Monserrate church. The statue is about 3 feet tall and has survived a cross-Atlantic journey from Spain, bombardment by pirates, and now this earthquake. “‘It is the pride of this town,’ said Fabricio Quijije,” a Montecristi resident. The church’s steeple fell around the statue during the quake but she still stands. To the rest of the world she is standing as a symbol for the people of Ecuador’s fortitude.



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About Author(s)

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Page McDonough
Page McDonough is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She studies Spanish, Anthropology, Portuguese, American Sign Language, and Linguistics. She often says she likes to study language, culture, and people. Page loves to travel. In her short time at Pitt she will have studied abroad three times: to Cochabamba, Bolivia with CLAS, a semester living in and loving Valencia, Spain, and to Fortaleza, Brazil with CLAS. She loves to dance, sing, and binge Netflix in her free time.