PEDERNALES, Ecuador (AP) — The dreams, plans and even the lives of hundreds of families were shattered in one moment — 6:58 p.m. on April 16 — when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked the central coast of Ecuador.
Among the desolation and debris lay thousands of abandoned objects, shards of a lost and broken normalcy.
A portrait of two women was tossed amid the rubble on a sidewalk and stained by a tropical downpour. They embrace and smile timidly, the elder of the two crossing her arms delicately. It's not clear if they are mother and daughter. Sisters? Friends? Are they alive, or are they among the more than 650 who died in the quake?
A white dress, adorned with sequins and gold embroidery, hung unmarked and brilliant in a room that now had no walls.
On a devastated street, a sign still welcomed guests to the Texas hotel. Behind it, a multistory building was collapsed, though the lobby itself eerily survived.
"What happened here is terrible. All the effort that it meant to build this hotel with more than 20 rooms ended in this, pure rubble," said Michael Ortiz, who owned the lodging house. Stunningly, no one was killed. "By luck, there weren't any tourists at that moment; they were returning from the beach, and thank God there were very few for that time of the year."
Survivors say the number of victims could have been far higher if the quake had hit during the high season for tourism along the scenic coast.
On what had been an interior wall of a public school, a mutilated mural showed a lake a volcano and a tree labelled "love," all now exposed to the greater world.
Nearly buried in rubble, a tabletop soccer game was marked with the names of two popular teams.
On a pre-dawn morning after the quake, a near-absolute silence held in Pedernales. In one corner of the city, the only things alight in the darkness were eight candles. They dimly illuminated a scene that was distinguished from the desolation and destruction by the care taken, their glow falling on white sheets covering the bodies of a woman and her daughter.