As stories of devastation slowly emerge from Ecuador, where a 7.8 -magnitude earthquake killed at least 238 people, a former Long Island resident and his wife were counted among the dead.
Anibal Ulloa Espinoza, 46, formerly of Patchogue, and his wife, Betty, were killed in the powerful quake Saturday, a family member said Sunday.
The couple owned two hotels and were leaving their second property in the coastal town of Canoa, when they fell into a hole opened up by the quake, said Sayville resident Jaime Hechtman-Ulloa, 51, who is related to Anibal Ulloa Espinoza. They were killed when a wall fell on them as they tried to climb free, she said.
Hechtman-Ulloa is related to Anibal Ulloa Espinoza through marriage; her husband is his cousin. She said the family is grieving, and worried about two family members who have been hospitalized with quake-related injuries and many other relatives struggling without basic necessities.
“There’s no food right now,” she said. “There’s no potable water, there’s no electricity.”
Family in the United States learned of the deaths through a Facebook announcement, which had the bilingual Hechtman-Ulloa questioning her Spanish fluency until her husband, Sergio Ulloa, 51, confirmed her reading of the news.
“I said, ‘I must not be understanding this right, it says Anibal died,’ ” she said. “I was just in shock, I thought I was wrong.”
Ulloa Espinoza lived in Patchogue for about five years before returning to his home country in the late 1990s, Hechtman-Ulloa said.
The family is from Gualaceo, about 310 miles southwest of Canoa, where Ulloa Espinoza and his wife lived.
Not being able to bury the body quickly — per local tradition — has been difficult, Hechtman-Ulloa said.
“My husband’s culture is that within 24 hours, you’re buried. This is not going to happen,” she said. “We can’t get their bodies from there [Canoa] to Gualaceo, because there’s not even transportation yet.”
Hechtman-Ulloa travels to Ecuador regularly, and was supposed to be in the country when the quake hit.
“I was supposed to leave Friday and something just told me, ‘I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go,’ ” she said. “My bags were all packed, but I canceled my trip.”
Now Hechtman-Ulloa and other family members are planning to return to Ecuador on April 28, “with as many suitcases as we can take,” filled with supplies for people on the ground.