They are arriving in Cuenca in a steady stream. Many have family connections but others come because they know the city is welcoming, safe, and far away from the danger and despair of the coastal earthquake zone.
“I have only been to Cuenca one time before, but I remember that it is a beautiful city with wonderful people,” said Tania Moreno, who arrived in town Friday afternoon with a four-year-old daughter, the day after burying her mother and two aunts in Manta. “I need to get away from all the pain and Cuenca feels very good right now,” she says.
Moreno’s only family connection to Cuenca is an uncle, her mother’s older brother, who she has not seen in years. “People here are helping us, finding us a place to stay and trying to find my uncle,” she said. Those providing assistance are from an organization called Recibe un Hermano, or Receive a Brotter (or Sister).
Another recent arrival from the coast, Estela Sanchez, also thanked Cuenca for taking her in. “Everyone in Ecuador thinks of Cuenca as this country’s most beautiful city,” she said. “When I decided to leave Pedernales, this is the only place I thought about.”
According to Paúl Jarrín, organizer of Recibe un Hermano, the mission of the project is to provide comfort, both physical and emotional, for those fleeing the disaster. “They have so many needs, and many of them are in so much pain, we want to make them feel welcome and then provide the services they need.” (Go to the Recibe un Hermano Facebook page for more information).
Recibe un Hermano is one of several services that have been organized since the April 16 earthquake.
Although no one knows how many earthquake victims have arrived in Cuenca, Mayor Marcelo Cabrera said last week that he expects hundreds. “It could even be two or three thousand,” he says. “There is simply no way to tell at this point but we will welcome all of them with open arms.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday, President Rafael Correa declared eight days of national mourning for victims of the earthquake and made another tour of the disaster area. As he has on other occasions, he praised the people of Ecuador for their response.
“I am filled with love for my countrymen,” he said. “I have never witnessed this kind of caring for those in need.” Correa said that relief has reached almost all victims and supplies and volunteers continue to come into the area.
Saturday was the first day since the 7.8 earthquake when no strong aftershocks were recorded. Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute says it expects to see less and less aftershocks as time goes on. “The earth is resettling and returning to a more normal state,” said the institute’s Daniel Andrade. The relative calm was welcome relief for residents, who had endured four aftershocks on Thursday and Friday of 6.0 or higher.
The death toll had risen to 658 by Saturday afternoon and is expected to grow as relief workers clear debris in the disaster area.