Leah Diaz is an AG career missionary associate in Cuenca, Ecuador. Leah serves at the Unsion Foundation with AG missionaries Bill & Connie McDonald and Thom & Becky Davis. Unsion is a television station that broadcasts programs around the world and sends volunteer teams throughout Ecuador to minister to the nationals. The following is an edited version of an email sent less than 48 hours after the 7.8 earthquake in Ecuador on April 16th, 2016.
We are leaving the area now, because it is too dangerous to stay. The situation in Pedernales is devastating. They are still pulling bodies from the rubble, there is no food, and although many people are arriving to help, the city is becoming overcrowded and very dangerous! We were not able to sleep at all even though the we were given permission to be in the stadium with them. It is too dangerous to sleep or leave your vehicle during the night because of looting.
Praying for families was not allowed. Today I was assigned to walk the families through the cadavers so they could search for their loved ones. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Bodies remain lying on the ground until they are claimed and the smells and images are unbearable. Each family is required to bury their own after they are claimed. This is extremely sad.
Many don't have a way to transport their family members or a place to take them. Many people I met were on vacation and lost their loved ones. They had to wait hours with the bodies for someone to come get them, and even in the streets because the officials do not allow the bodies to stay for long amounts of time inside the identification area. Officials are donating caskets but after that it is up to the family to take their loved one and bury them. The conditions of the bodies make this unbearable for the family members.
Officials are numb to the situation and treat the victims as piece of paperwork, demanding the family members take their loved ones and that they should be thankful to have been donated the casket. It's terrible. The agency we are working with placed us with these families to help with that process. Aside from that I'm not sure how a city such as Pedernales can rebuild. It's in ruins. The main needs are food and water. I think it will take a few weeks for things to calm down before we can really make an impact and asses things properly. Everything is very restricted at the moment.
After what I saw, I believe the greatest thing we can do is bring hope to these families, bring a smile to the children's faces, and help rebuild churches that were destroyed. It would be a great ministry to be with the families as they are burying their loved ones. Maybe there could be a possibility to set up stations to minister with a local church and hand out donations of food and water at the cemeteries.
I have also received calls from churches in Cuenca that have family members in the area that need help. One call I received was for 50 church members in Manta who desperately need food and water. All 50 people are in one home at the moment.
Tomorrow, Unsion is sending food, water, and clothing donations received so far with a team from Cuenca to the coast. Also, please be very careful especially if you plan on traveling to these areas. Be prepared to have no food, electricity, water, or shelter. No privacy at all, not even for a bathroom. They have also informed us that viruses are very probable and that you should wear a mask and gloves at all times. Cover your feet and wear bug spray. Also be prepared to get trapped in these cities or take many extra hours for traveling because there are so many going in and out. Bring extra gas! Think of everything you need to survive.
I know things will calm down because we are just now in the 48 hour window, but today was more than we expected. We were told we could go to Canoa with one agency but we opted out because of lack of preparation. I will be headed back to Cuenca tomorrow. We have also planned a candlelight prayer service for the victims on Thursday evening at Unsion.
I'm sure there will be more questions. I hope this information is helpful. There is a lot to do and a long road ahead. Thank you for praying!
Sent from my iPhone
Learn more about Leah Diaz here. Follow Leah on Instagram @leahmariediaz.
To make a donation to Assemblies of God World Missions earthquake relief efforts in Ecuador, go to giving.ag.org, enter "AGWM Crisis Response," and in the comment box specify "Ecuador Earthquake." Offerings can also be mailed to AGWM, 1445 Boonville Ave, Springfield, MO 65802.