The energy released during a 7.8 magnitude quake is equal to the energy of 9.7 million of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima. That’s enough energy to power the entire United States – for six years.

“When it’s high magnitude earthquakes, you’re not going to avoid all damage,” said William Krugh, assistant geology professor at CSUB. “Even reinforced buildings under high levels of shaking can suffer damage. It’s the degree, the amount of damage that you would expect to see.”

For those who remember the Bakersfield earthquake of 1952 – it destroyed or damaged some 400 buildings. Bakersfield’s iconic Beale memorial clock tower at the intersection of 17th and Chester among them.  

And that was a magnitude 5.5.

The most striking thing about the day for me? The way the ocean shook like a cup of water being tipped from side to side.  Waves slammed from one side of the ocean to the other, defying gravity. The ground seized. The late afternoon sky turned to night in seconds. Nothing made sense. 

“It was horrible because it was as if I was on a carousel moving up and down,” said Silvia Ponce of Tarqui, Ecuador. “I began to pray and said lord if it’s my turn to die here, let it be your will.”

In the first days, a state of emergency was declared across several provinces. My family’s home, in one of them.

Restaurants, stores, entire towns shut down. 

As the dust began to settle, a pungent sense of fear filled the air. 

And while my family and I were fortunate and safe, so many others weren’t.

“The first weeks was the time of chaos,” said Petter Hermansson, a missionary with Covenant Church of Ecuador. “Thousands of people going to the streets and begging for food and water.”

“The first thing we saw when we arrived in Puerto Viejo were many people that were emotionally traumatized,” said Rodolfo Arce with Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. “People that were disoriented and entire families that were trying to lift the debris in an effort to rescue family members or others that were still buried.”

The quake was so strong, it could be felt all the way in the country’s capital, Quito, 100 miles away from the epicenter.

“It felt like a wave,” said Mercedes Idero of Jaramisol, Ecuador. “The house would get picked up and then dropped down. When the earthquake began there were tsunami warnings and because we live on the coast we left immediately. Still, not knowing where to go.”

“People living on the coast definitely have to be worried about tsunamis,” said Assistant Professor Krugh. “Not every earthquake generates a tsunami but the possibility is there and you may not have that much time to react to it.”

For me, and I think for most people, it was the fear of not knowing what was going to happen next. 

Another tremor? A larger earthquake? There was a real and penetrating fear of a tsunami for weeks. I didn’t know. Nobody knew. The stress in the towns was so high. A few times we were told to run up to higher ground, a tsunami was coming. It didn’t, but no one knew better. Everyone was just so nervous, panicked, that at any given moment, something else was coming. That feeling of helplessness was very desperate.

Click here for The Ecuador Special – Part 3