A newborn, pulled from an earthquake’s debris, survives. But that’s only the beginning of this incredible true story.
Story by Jack Brockley
Photos by Franklin Jacome • ACG
José Víctor Espinoza Barcia stood disheartened. Before him, what once was a family’s four-story home was a pile of rubble. But there he stood, with his work crew, preparing to dig through the debris on a grim search for survivors. How could anyone live through such destruction?
But deep within the house, days-old Danna Chancay lay in darkness and dust, alive. This would not be the last time Espinoza and Danna would meet.
On April 17, 2016, the northwestern coast of Ecuador was rocked with a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Nearly 700 people died. More than 16,000 were injured. Widespread destruction was reported.
As an employee of the EPAM (Public Water Company of Manta), Espinoza realized the quake may have compromised the city’s water system. He and other employees met at EPAM’s Santa Martha Station, which the water company had used as a center of operations during previous disasters.
“We initially met to evaluate the damage to our drinkable water system and sewage system,” Espinoza says. “After analyzing the area, we realized there were other, higher priorities to be considered.
“We went to the field to help the rescue teams.”
The EPAM crew didn’t need to go far. About a quarter of a mile from the station, a police officer requested help for a trapped family.
“It was a heartbreaking scene,” Espinoza remembers. “It was hard to believe that where there was debris there had been a building before.”
A rescue team formed, made up of the family’s relatives, neighbors and friends, along with the EPAM crew. A backhoe tenderly scraped away broken boards and busted blocks. But when a body was located, the equipment backed off and rescuers began the difficult job of hand-tunneling to the victim.
After about an hour, Jose left to assist another rescue, but co-worker Edmundo Aveiga kept him informed of news from the Chancay home.
“During the early hours of the next day, he called me each time they found someone,” Espinoza says.
Sadly, four family members died in the house. Five survived, including Danna.
“It was such a happy moment,” Espinoza says of the child’s rescue.
Immediately after the earthquake, then-Ecuador District in Formation Governor Atenaida Macias de Espinoza began receiving calls for help. At the same time, she also began receiving donations from her Kiwanis friends. One of the contributions was US$2,670 from Kiwanis friends in Panama. (This past January, the Kiwanis Children’s Fund provided a grant to pay for victims’ basic necessities.)
One of the calls for help was from a neighborhood association.
“They were asking for bamboo to build a shelter for a family that had lost everything, including family members,” Macias says. “I wanted to do more than just give them the bamboo. I wanted to help them build a little house.”
Ecuadorian Kiwanis members rallied around their governor. Santa Rita Kiwanian Ramon Figueroa Vera and his family lost most of their possessions in the disaster, but provided the bamboo and wood needed for construction.
On September 16—almost exactly six months after the disaster—Ecuador Kiwanians welcomed the family into their new home. Constructed of bamboo and wood with a zinc roof, the house has a family room, dining room, one bathroom, two bedrooms and a deck. Kiwanians donated plants for a garden.
On hand for the ceremony was Macias’ son and fellow Manta Kiwanis Club member José Espinoza, who had helped harvest bamboo for the project. He soon learned exactly who he was helping—once again.
“When the family realized I worked for EPAM, they asked if I could help them install a water system,” Espinoza recalls from the day of the ribbon-cutting. “I was talking with the wife and realized that the baby we found in rubble in April was her baby. I couldn’t believe it! I was so excited.
“I showed them photos and videos of the rescue. We cried as we remembered those difficult moments. It was hard, because they had lost four of their family members, but they were joyful because their baby had been rescued. And now they have a new home.”
One relative expressed the family’s feelings to Macias, saying, “An angel came down from heaven, Dr. Atenaida. If Kiwanis had not helped us, we wouldn’t have a home now.”
This story originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Kiwanis magazine.