What you see on the news is only the tip of the iceberg of what really happened as a result of the devastating April 16 earthquake in Ecuador, Michigan physician Rick Dorsch, NE8Z/HC1MD, told ARRL. Since the 7.8 magnitude quake hit while most people were at home finishing dinner, “thousands of people” remain buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings, although some have been found alive. Dorsch and his wife Maria, HC1MM, also a physician, have been helping to handle health-and-welfare traffic via EchoLink, which is connected to the Ecuadorean interlaced national 2 meter repeater network.
“EchoLink is actually a fantastic Amateur Radio service,” Dorsch told ARRL. “It has become extremely useful for the hams there to reach out to the outside world via 2 meters.” HF also is playing a role, and radio amateurs have been asked to give 7.060 MHz a wide berth while the Cadena HC Net handles emergency traffic. Dorsch said some problems have cropped up from DX pileups that have overlapped the net’s frequency.
Dorsch pointed out that while most of the damage was in the HC4 areas of Manabí and Esmeraldas provinces and the HC2 area of Guayas Province, what’s not seen from the outside is the heavy damage to surrounding small fishing villages and colonial towns that were leveled. Fortunately the Portoviejo Radio Club was undamaged, and members have been operating from there. Dorsch said that electrical power is starting to return, and the cellular network is still “iffy,” but the Quito Radio Club is providing battery-powered cellphone charging stations.
A lot of health-and-welfare traffic is headed not only between Ecuador and the US but to Spain, Chile, and elsewhere, he reported. Dorsch said more bilingual Spanish-English speakers are needed on the HC1BG-R EchoLink channel.
While power has been knocked out over much of the affected region, Dorsch said, he’s witnessing hams all over Ecuador operating from mobile stations, portable stations, and, in some cases, from home. “All of the Ecuadorean radio clubs have been on high alert and are helping in search-and-rescue efforts,” he said. “Ham radio at its best!”
On a more positive note, Dorsch said that noted DXer Lilian “Mami” de Ayala, HC4L, barely escaped death or injury when her home collapsed. The 85-year-old, who lives in Portoviejo, was in her radio room seconds before the earthquake hit, Dorsch said. “Her granddaughter had come over to visit, so Lilian went into another part of the house.” Her radio room and home were destroyed, and her next-door neighbor was among the casualties.
“She’s still in shock and can’t believe she’s alive,” Dorsch told ARRL. Local hams have removed her personal effects and ham radio gear to a safe location.
For more than 40 years, de Ayala had been a regular check-in on the Cadena HC Net on 40 meters. “It’s ironic that the one person who lost all of her radio equipment was the one who organized radio emergency services for so many years,” Dorsch said. Her tower and antennas survived, because they were mounted on the roof of her son’s home next door.