Real Life

Terror in Ecuador: Kiwi Dad fears for his family

The disaster struck close to home for Hawke's Bay dad Josh Power.

Sunday, April 17, began like any other for Josh Power.

During a day off from his job as a forklift driver in the Hawke’s Bay town of Waipukurau, the young dad reached out to his family – wife Mayra and 10-month-old son Franky, who live thousands of miles away in Ecuador.

So far, so normal for the proud father.

“I remember Mayra saying, ’I’ll put Franky on the phone,’ and he was doing his baby talk – you know, the ‘ra-ra-ra-rah’. He was also trying to play with the phone, the cheeky wee thing, and then the phone cut out. I thought nothing of it, that he must have pushed a button.”

But later that night, the disconnection made sense when Josh turned on the television news to see a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had struck near Muisne in northwest Ecuador. At just 19km deep, it sent tremors far and wide.

Sitting in his lounge, on the other side of the world, the 34-year-old went into shock.

The Waipukurau father met his wife Mayra in 2010 and they married in 2013 (below).

“I shut off,“ he recalls. “I couldn’t focus on what the presenters were saying – all I heard was ’state of emergency’ and ’Ecuador’. When they said the closest city was Guayaquil, I panicked because it’s only about 45 minutes away from where Mayra and Franky are.”

Josh first visited South America in 2011 after he met Mayra (31) through a dating website. He moved to Ecuador permanently, and in 2013, the couple married and began planning their family.

But last year, Josh came home to New Zealand, in search of work. He says he had little choice – Mayra had lost her job as a qualified electrical engineer after she took time off to have Franky.

While Josh tried to make enough money working on Mayra’s family’s plantation and teaching English on the side, it soon became clear he’d never make a decent living.

Living apart was a heartbreaking decision for the couple, but they remained in constant contact, speaking every day or chatting through Facebook.

Josh was frantic when he couldn’t get hold of his loved ones after the South American country was hit by the devastating earthquake.

Josh’s son Franky, who was born in Ecuador.

“Over the years, our bond has just got stronger and stronger,“ Josh tells. “We love to joke around with each other. Mayra has a great sense of humour. She’s family-oriented, she’s career driven and she’s a great mother to our son.”

After the devastating quake struck and there was no news from his family, Josh was inconsolable.

Unable to sleep, his biggest concern was that his family had been shopping or that Mayra had taken Franky to the medical centre in Guayaquil, the country’s largest city.

All he could do was watch helplessly as the death toll continued to climb past 200 – and wince at the images of buildings destroyed and local people in the coastal towns using their bare hands to hunt for survivors.

“I was wrestling with a lot of things in my mind – I felt so much anxiety and panic,“ says Josh. “Over there, the building materials are quite cheap and in the home where my family live, there was this crack above an archway between the lounge and the kitchen. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, ‘Far out, if there was an earthquake here, that would just come down!’ That night, I had that picture in my head. You try not to think about it, but I was just praying my son wasn’t anywhere near that archway.“

Early the next morning, Josh got news – his family was safe, although a little shaken.

Mayra said that their house was undamaged, but the tremors had sent terrified locals screaming and running out onto the road, and made Franky cry.

“I was thinking, ’My poor wee boy’ – I wish I could have been there to hold him,” Josh says. “It’s hard right now, not being able to hug my family and tell them I love them.”

But now Josh is worried about the aftershocks and has told his wife to prepare, knowing full well the devastation the Canterbury quakes of 2010 and 2011 wreaked.

Although he’d been planning to complete his certificate to teach English as a second language here in New Zealand before returning to his family, he now believes Ecuador might not be the best place for them.

The port town of Manta the day after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake. The death toll is now over 350 with 12,000 injured.

Josh is currently working 10-hour days, six days a week, sending money back to his family and saving for a ticket so Mayra and Franky can visit for a month.

Their arrival can’t come soon enough, but with so little in the bank account, November is the target.

It will be the first time Franky meets his Kiwi relatives and Josh says if his wife likes it in New Zealand, he’d like to continue with the process to move them here.

“It’s both Mayra’s birthday and our wedding anniversary in November,“ reveals the devoted dad. “It will be good to celebrate with my family and have a real Kiwi barbecue.”

Josh smiles, but there’s worry behind his grin.

“I feel like I should be in Ecuador with them – I just have to work harder, so I can finally embrace them.”

Words: Anastasia Hedge

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