Notes from a survivor, Ecuador Earthquake 4/16/2016

April 17th, 2016

I’m okay. Fucking miracle. Everything so fucked here. I’m okay.”

(Text message to a friend when I finally had my phone and service, 14 hours after the earthquake)

April 19th, 2016

Thank you so much for your notes and concern. I am completely safe, in Quito with Jacqui Watts, and grateful for so much support and love.

Most of those I knew in the town of Canoa and elsewhere in Ecuador are fine as well. So many more I was with after the earthquake, and throughout the country, are not.

It has taken me a while to figure out if/how to respond and find words worth expressing. As of now I have only a few to share. It is true that during the earthquake I was in one of the most devastated areas, in a small coastal community called Canoa. I am unscathed and unharmed, with gratitude and a heavy broken heart.

Yet, second to gratitude, I feel obligated to share the opposite. When I first saw facebook posts saying there was no damage and just flooding in Canoa, I was overwhelmed with anger and frustration. There were no floods, no evacuation – only extreme destruction, with no authorities of any kind (including organized police or fire efforts) arriving until over 17 hours later.

There were almost no medical supplies or doctors at all in Canoa until far too late. The nearest hospital 45 minutes away was almost unreachable due to landslides, and had all patients outside in the rain with worry of damaging after shocks. There were false Tsunami warnings causing fear and lack of willingness to help those who were stuck or hurt. There were no military, rescue teams, paramedics, or helicopters anywhere near Canoa, until far too late.

Why was the news so inaccurate? How did nobody realize what was happening? Where were the doctors? Why wasn’t everyone who could helping throughout the night? Why didn’t anyone send helicopters, rescuers, machines, supplies, sooner, when the response was needed most? Why did the one doctor at the makeshift clinic have no supplies or organized support?

I have had so many questions about what happened, why, and what now.

I am slowly understanding that my anger and frustration with the rumors and lack of adequate, immediate, crucial response is, yes, worth sharing. And, at the same time, not useful to hold on to, even if merited.

While I do want to make some of these facts known, I am learning even more facts. I am starting to empathize with the gravity of what happened and to others’ experiences. And I am trying to turn this frustration into energy to continue and appreciation for what there was.

There was a complete community effort in Canoa to put all possible heart, energy, literal strength, and life at risk to try and rescue people. There were countless people who offered to share with me their water, food, and smiles of solidarity. There were authorities arriving eventually, ready and working hard to provide information and support. The massive hearts of these Ecuadorians and others keeps me inspired. These facts also need to be shared and deeply appreciated.

There was also so much happening that I was not aware of. I came back to see several incredibly humbling efforts from so many of the wonderful people I know in the country.

So, I am committing to also turn this frustration into energy to continue sharing and soliciting support. Thank you so much for listening here and for reaching out. I am going to be supporting relief efforts and could really use all of your help now. We need to grow awareness and support about what has happened, and what people need moving forward. Please share this link below, or this post, and donate whatever amount you can to this relief effort with which I will be collaborating starting tomorrow, headed by my dear friend Eileen Knowles.

Thank you again and sending love to all.

Support ‘ECUADOR Earthquake Emergency Relief’ by donating or sharing today!

May 16th, 2016

One month has passed since the earthquake on April 16th that left a huge portion of the Ecuadorian coast in complete devastation – physically and mentally. Beyond the chaos of their homes being destroyed, finding shelter, and food/water security, those who survived have also been working to revive their calmness and mental stability (including myself). Many have now taken leaps backwards as gigantic aftershocks particularly in the last two days continue to shake the earth violently, again reinstalling fear and anxiety. I want to talk about this, and I also need to talk first about why I haven’t been talking about anything at all….

I have been struggling to find the words to attempt to describe what I have been feeling, witnessing, and doing since the first seconds of the earthquake. Staring at a computer for hours, writing the details of what happened, who I met, what I saw, how I was affected, and what has been happening since…. erasing, deleting, overthinking, reading other stories, rewriting mine, becoming overwhelmed with an unnerving mix of guilt, obligation, and motivation…. all of this leading to an imperfect, incomplete, 6-page story never told, and a call out for more support and donations left lingering.

None of it feels ready to be shared. Yet, as I await a flight to the US for a work event, I am recognizing again the insane gratitude I feel for Ecuador, for the people here, and for the insane learning and growth this country has enabled me. So, I am attempting to reconsider this term “ready.” To remember that I am not that special and don’t need to strive for glorious beauty in writing. To throw down my propensity for perfection (as my vision for the year always obliges) and decide to just start sharing – because I do realize it is not about me. Sure, I’d love to boast grace in my ability to translate feelings, observations, information, and stories into writing. But that’s not the point, nor the need. Right now it is about sharing realities and reminding the world that Ecuador needs your support. Nada más.

As I reflect and remember all of this, the inhibiting obligation and desire to share everything perfectly is now beginning to feel more like a privilege that I need to honor now. And so I am just going to START. Here is a preview of this attempt…..

My story is like many others – the ground and walls began to shake, I braced myself for a terrorizing 53 seconds in the door frame as the building violently shook back and forth, imagining the world was ending, and then ran outside to find others once it was possible to move. Immediately after this – a small piece of the gravity of what had happened started coming into focus.

The house next door – collapsed. Running to find and care for the people trapped underneath it. Waving down a truck. Moving rubble. Stabilizing wounds. Worrying about roads to neighboring towns with hospitals. Going anyway. Tsunami warning rumors, terror, and confusion as rain began to fall and people started sprinting including the injured towards the nearest hill. And this is only the first hour.

The accounts are going to start being told, I hope, as people begin to confront and process what is happening here. I am on that path now, and hoping to put extreme gratitude for my pure luck to good use by sharing these stories and asking for your support in efforts moving forward, which will be needed for years to come.

Since that evening, a mixture of fear, deep sadness, confusion, hope, and motivation to work in relief efforts on the coast in some way has been at the forefront of my everyday. Fortunately, I have been able to focus on the motivation in the last two weeks by joining up with a with an inspiring team of friends specialized in public health and sanitation, project management, and logistics and an NGO (Timmy Global Health) to help consolidate relief efforts of various actors in Jama and a small fishing town called El Matal. This includes coordination of health and hygiene workshops for people in the official and nonofficial shelters (this difference is a forthcoming story).

The plan during these trips was to write updates about the reality on the ground daily while doing our work – to share what’s happening and our lessons. However, one of these realities is that the situation and what we and other actors are doing changes radically each day. Racing between talking to a variety of families in each camp, government ministry bodies, NGO reps, military officials, and community leaders meant a need to stay on our feet, to stay action-oriented, and balance this with mindful collaboration amongst all the people with good intentions.

“On the ground” or “in the field,” days are long and full of movement, phone service is spotty, and there is still no electricity in the small town where we are focused. I never could have imagined how dire, yet disjointedly organized (intended oxymoron) these efforts are, and the wide array of challenges that have stemmed from the 53 second earthquake. For example, where to store the food and other donations that families have collected in their tents outside their homes which need demolishing, when moving them to the official camps which are tiny tents that prohibit more than basic personal items? Articulating these fascinating (I think!) lessons and details of are work is in progress.

Beyond the field work, workshops, and sanitation efforts we are working on, we are doing a lot of what I will call “people work.” We have been in awe of the local coastal people here who have welcomed us, shared meals with us, and graciously told us their stories of anxiety, desperation, and hope for renewal. Purely taking the time to have conversations with people are where I feel I have had the most impact. When faced with questions of what are we doing and how are things going from friends and family – these are the stories that we end up telling.

Which is where I will be focusing moving forward – telling the stories of what a post-earthquake disaster zone really looks like and who are the people living it. Now that we have returned from over a week on the coast, we are excited to be launching a page to share these stories and faces.
I hope you will stay tuned for this page and more updates!

Please continue to send positive vibes, and donations to the efforts working on the ground – there are several GoFundMe pages for families who lost everything including this one started by my friend Myla in Canoa:
and this one:
for the family that was next door to my hotel. Also, you can donate to the Ecuadorian Red Cross here:…/ecuador-earthquake-emergency-r…
through the efforts of the Global Shapers – who are committed, as is my team, to longterm relief beyond the peak response that has already trickled down.

…. So there it is, a first draft disjointed attempt at sharing something. Thank you for listening 🙂 Truly grateful for the outpouring of support and love – keep it coming people.

Special gratitude shout outs to these beauties for your extra support here in Ecuador during the last month Ryan SweatRoberto TorresJoséphine ConstantinVictor DeschampsJacqui WattsEugenia SandovalEileen KnowlesSara BrellsLisa WaltersStephanie KastenMaya CarlsonYuri StroboschRaine DonohueCarolina Souza and the TEAM – Eleonore Van WonterghemAriana GabaudanCarlos BravoEsteban Bravo

Again, more on the way… Lots of abrazos, Michaela

June 16th, 2016

Today is June 16, exactly 2 months since the earthquake struck us here in Ecuador.
Exactly two months ago, at this very moment I was watching the sunset outside the Coconut Surf Hotel, Canoa on the Ecuadorian coast and about to stroll inside to evade the dusk-loving mosquitos.
Exactly two months ago, I had no idea the strange mix of gratitude and fear that can come from surviving such an event. I guess this day, the 16th of each month, will always feel this way for me and thousands of others – eerie, yet hopeful.

Exactly two months ago, so many peoples lives were affected in countless ways. Two months is not a long time, I am realizing. And the need for recuperation, relief, and continued hope for rebuilding is still dire. This page is our attempt to bring some of these peoples’ stories to you.

Humans of Manabí is a storytelling project (inspired by Humans of New York!) that I’ve been working on closely with Eleonore Van Wonterghem and Ariana Gabaudan. As I mentioned in a previous post, providing a space for deep listening, empathy, and understanding has felt like one of the best avenues for “rebuilding” hope and calmness. People were excited and relieved to tell us their stories, and to share them even more widely on this page.

My request to you is this – please like this page, share this page, read the stories, and comment if you are moved to do so. The goal is simple, to bring empathy and attention to the faces of those affected by this natural disaster. Maybe it will even inspire further projects and donations, who knows. For now, we just hope to share the stories and inspire global empathy that I believe is even more possible with social media 🙂

We will be posting new stories and photos weekly and are open to collaborating if anyone else would like to submit stories/photos.

Thank you…

About Humans of Manabí:

On the evening of April 16th the coast of Ecuador suffered a 7.8 earthquake which caused unthinkable destruction, both physical and emotional. Some cities and towns have been destroyed at 90% or more, one of the most affected areas being the province of Manabí.

All of the people we’ve met so far are living in shelters, or have built makeshift tents outside their homes. There has been an enormous response both from governmental and non governmental entities, all trying to find the best way to support the people who are suffering in this crisis.

Our team has been working together as a group of people specialized in public health, project management, and logistics to help consolidate relief efforts of various actors in Jama and a small fishing town called El Matal. This includes coordination of health and hygiene workshops for people in the official and nonofficial shelters (this difference is a forthcoming story).
We have been struggling to find the words to describe to our friends and family what it is exactly that we are witnessing, learning, and feeling every day in the field. The mixture of emotions, from despair, to deep sadness, to immeasurable hope and motivation at times seems impossible to portray.

For this reason, beyond the field work, workshops, and sanitation efforts we are working on, we hope to use this platform to share what we will call “people work.” We have been in awe of the local coastal people here who have welcomed us, shared meals with us, and graciously told us their stories of anxiety, desperation, and hope for renewal. Purely taking the time to have conversations with people and listen to their stories, has felt immensely impactful. When faced with questions of what are we doing and how are things going from friends and family – these are the stories that we end up telling.

Which is where the purpose of this page lands – we hope to begin telling the stories of what a post-earthquake disaster zone really looks like and who are the people living it.

Thank you for taking the time to visit our page and please reach out with any questions or feedback.

With gratitude and admiration,
Eleonore Van Wonterghem, Michaela Joyce D’Amico, Ariana Gabaudan, and Carlos Bravo

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Humans of Manabí's photo.



30 minutes before the earth began to shake. I walked from here to my hotel room after the sun set.


The morning after the earthquake. My friend’s hotel room was the bottom floor of the hotel you see fallen, with the big blue water tank on top. To the right you see a group of local people in a rescue effort. Professional rescue crews had still not arrived.


Coconut Hotel RyanIMG_0627

The white building on the right is the Coconut hotel, where I was during the earthquake. The house on the left is where we went immediately after to look for the family that was inside. The house was 3 floors, and you can only see one of them as it collapsed completely.


A standard site in Jama, Manabí, even a month after the earthquake buildings and homes were still in need of demolition.


This is Aida, who now lives in this tent since her house completely collapsed. “I was ill for 15 days [after the earthquake], I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to speak with anyone. I just wanted to stay in bed. I was only thinking about what had happened. Thank God a psychologist came to see me and found me like this. He talked to me, we had a conversation, and he told me to think about my child.” See more stories and photos of Aida at Humans of Manabí.


“I felt the earth move , so I ran outside like a crazy person. Then I fell on my head and I don’t remember anything… Now every 2 weeks I go to Quito to speak with a psychologist and get my head treated. When wash my hair and brush it, I have this intense unbearable pain but I’m alive and that’s all that matters now.” See more photos and stories at Humans of Manabí.



Mama Vero, Adreina, and another young daughter were inside the house when it collapsed. The roof stabilized on the fence next door, saving their lives as they huddled in a corner. They are now staying in a tent in front of this rubble.


Temporary makeshift sleeping area for a non-government sanctioned camp in Jama, Manabí. This camp is supported by the independent group of volunteers from Quito, Embudo. See their page here to find out more about their work.


Tents in the government run camp in El Matal, Jama Manabí, provided by Medicos sin Fronteras. These were set up 2 weeks after the earthquake.

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