A week after the earthquake, the death toll had risen to more than 600 and was still climbing.

“I think we had some 1,500 patients. 1,500 people get attended by the medics,” said Petter Hermansson, a missionary with Covenant Church of Ecuador.

I did what I could to help, raising money and buying basic supplies, but it felt like running up an impossibly steep hill. It was heartbreaking working so hard to effect so little change. 

In small coastal towns near the epicenter, the destruction was almost absolute. 

“We saw in the streets people begging for food and water,” said Marduri Molina of Tarqui, Ecuador.

“People sleeping in the streets and children who were scared because there were people who wanted to do damage. It was sad.”

Due to the chaos and disorganization, the true death toll remains uncertain.

“The official number is some 673,” said Hermansson. “Even people from the government say that the official number isn’t the correct one. There should be more. Much more.”

“The next morning we drove around to survey the damage and it was truly a disaster, like something out of a movie,” said Cecilia Briones of Jaramisol, Ecuador.

With so much destruction, a reported 25,000 people were left homeless.

“I didn’t see anything, I didn’t know if my house was still standing,” said Maria Zambrano of Mejia, Ecuador. “When I arrived home, my whole family, my kids, my grandkids, came out crying telling me that my entire house had been destroyed. Everything was gone. I thought, where are we going to sleep? Where will we sleep tonight?”

Maria Zambrano, her daughter Nelli Catagua and their families were permitted to live in a school nearby.

“At the school, each family stayed in a classroom. There were 7 in our family, 8 or more in others,” said Nelli Catagua.

Fifteen families in all slept on the floors of outdoor classrooms for two months.

“We didn’t have anywhere else to go,” said Neilli Catagua.

For so many families like the Zambranos, whose loved ones are lost and whose homes remain in rubble, the earthquake has changed their lives forever.

“The suffering that we have endured, no one could ever imagine that this could happen. But, it did,” said Cista Franco Lopez of Jaramisol, Ecuador.

“I’ll never forget that night my family was all in tears. I had to stay calm, and tell them let’s sit here and wait,” said Maria Zambrano.

Click here for The Ecuador Special – Part 4