While hundreds died after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Ecuador on Saturday, April 16, John Carroll alumnus, Brian Bayer ’13, survived.
Bayer went to Ecuador three years ago as a year-long volunteer with JCU’s immersion program affiliate, Rostro de Cristo. Afterwards he was invited to return to work on a nonprofit journalism project and was later offered a job as a 10-12 grade English teacher at Unidad Educativa Nuevo Mundo.
Bayer lives in Guayaquil, Ecuador, which is the country’s biggest city. He was 200 miles from the epicenter in the Esmeraldas province.
Before the earthquake, Bayer said, “It was just a lazy Guayaquil Saturday. No one was prepared for this, and although the death toll in Guayaquil was relatively low, there was still major damage done to roads, bridges and several high-rise buildings.”
Since Ecuador is on a plate boundary, geologists said that an earthquake was just a matter of time. The last time there was an earthquake of this magnitude was in 1979. Bayer said, “In a developing country like Ecuador, many of the buildings just weren’t built to withstand a seven plus magnitude earthquake.”
Bayer was in his apartment building when he felt a tremor. While tremors are common a few times a month, he still decided to put on his shoes and go outside as a precautionary measure. By the time he had unlaced one of his shoes, the building was jumping up and down and swaying back and forth. Bayer said, “The sound still gives me chills, like an airplane was landing inside my building; you could literally hear the building shaking apart.”
Glass shattered and the plaster ceilings collapsed in the hallways. “I made it out to the street, and the shaking stopped a few seconds later as people continued to leave the building, sobbing and traumatized. The whole thing probably lasted less than two minutes, but it was without a doubt the scariest two minutes of my life,” said Bayer.
After the earthquake, Bayer said the atmosphere was somber and there was a sense of community. “It felt like the world has been in solidarity with Ecuador as the country continues to reel from this disaster,” he said.
Most of the buildings in Guayaquil remained intact but others, including Bayer’s apartment building, have been condemned until they can be repaired or demolished.
The school buildings must also be checked for structural soundness. The timing of the earthquake has created a lot of uncertainty about when classes can begin. “We’ve joked that instead of a snow day, we’re getting earthquake days,” said Bayer about being able to teach his classes.
After the destruction of his building, Bayer made temporary living arrangements with his friend’s family but hopes he will be able to find a new place to live within the next few days.
He is grateful for how generous and hospitable they have been and believes this to be the attitude of most Ecuadorians in this difficult time.
Multiple news outlets like CBS, NBC and ABC have reached out to Bayer in the hopes of getting more information on the disaster. Bayer admits he is in denial about what happened.
“Hundreds are dead. Entire towns are rubble,” Bayer said. “You see things like this on the news, but it’s hard to really understand until you’ve actually felt it firsthand. There’s a complete feeling of helplessness. Every time I get upset about having lost my apartment, I have to remember to count my blessings that I’m even alive.”
A 19-year-old girl was killed in the mall adjacent to Bayer’s building by a falling piece of concrete. After processing this, he realized how fragile life is.
“This event was one of those rare moments when you realize how precious it is in the most harrowing way,” Bayer said.
There has been an outpouring of support for Bayer. He said, “The love and prayers that have been sent from home are so reassuring. In the darkest moments, it’s comforting to know that there are so many people keeping our little corner of the world in their thoughts and hearts. It truly does make a difference.”