Lakeland helps teacher affected by Ecuador earthquake

Published 9:56 pm Monday, April 25, 2016

The Lakeland High School family is planning ways it can help after one of its own was personally affected by a devastating earthquake in Ecuador.

Sandra Vera, a Spanish teacher at the school, is originally from Ecuador, and many members of her family, including her mother and some siblings, still live there or have moved back.

Briceño, the small fishing village founded by her relatives, was hit hard by the April 16 quake, which measured magnitude 7.8. The house where her mother and sister lived was split in half. They were not harmed; however, three other relatives perished in the quake not far away. Another relative died the same day, although it’s not certain whether the death was caused by the quake or by ill health. Some other relatives still aren’t accounted for.

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“It’s hard to get phone calls or anything like that,” said Vera, who just returned from a three-week visit to her family on April 3. “We’re just trying to catch up.”

Vera’s parents moved her and her seven siblings to New York City in 1974. She lived there for about five years, then joined the Army for more than 11 years.

Beginning in 1988, she and family who still live in America have returned every year to visit. Her mother moved back in 2002 upon being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, because care is cheaper there, Vera said.

Now that her mother is at the end stage of the disease, siblings who remain in America are taking turns visiting so that somebody can be with her at all times.

In all, the human toll of the April 16 earthquake currently stands at 654 lives.

Immediately after the quake, there was no water or electricity, and roads were impassable, Vera said.

Her mother and sister are now staying with her brother in Chone, which was not as heavily damaged.

Vera said she is confident the region as a whole will flourish after recovering from the quake.

“That part of the country that got hit, we always come out strong,” she said.

Lakeland Principal Douglas Wagoner said the school family is examining options to help Ecuador.

“Ecuador is our extended family now,” he said.

The school plans a blue jeans week, where teachers can pay $20 for the privilege of wearing jeans all week. Many other options for other fundraisers, including ones in which students can participate, are in the works as well.

Wagoner said any money raised likely will be donated to Hampton Roads-based Operation Blessing.

“They’re already on the ground,” he said.