By Jonathan Blitzer
When the shaking, faint but jarring, began, Daniel Orellana, a geographer at the University of Cuenca, in southern Ecuador, was at home with his wife and daughter. It was Saturday evening, around 7 P.M. The tremors subsided, and Orellana eventually went back to a paper he was writing, then took his family to his mother’s house for her birthday.
Ecuador, which sits on the seismically volatile part of the the Pacific basin called the Ring of Fire, has a number of active volcanoes and regular small earthquakes, so, although the reverberations were worrisome, they were also familiar to Orellana. He didn’t learn until he returned home, late that evening, that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 had struck the northern coast, killing hundreds, injuring thousands, and collapsing roadways, bridges, and buildings across a wide swath of the country.