An East Bay man traveling in Ecuador at the time of Saturday’s destructive magnitude-7.8 earthquake said it began with a "boom."
Bill Freedman and his wife, Alice Gandelman, were relaxing and enjoying dinner in a restaurant in San Clemente, which is south of the epicenter, when the temblor hit. Immediately, people panicked, he said, recalling the look of terror on the faces of other diners.
"It started and there was a big boom and everyone ran out of the restaurant and then it went completely dark," Freedman said.
At last count, 246 had been killed by the earthquake and more than 2,500 peope were injured, officials said.
The Vallejo couple said he went back to his hotel and found that the windows of his room were shattered and pipes had burst. They were forced to stay at a condo nearby.
Freedman said he was most concerned about a tsunami warning in the aftermath of the quake because gridlock in San Clemente prevented him and Gandelman from getting out town.
It wasn’t until Sunday, though, that Freedman realized how much damage the quake had caused. Walking around San Clemente, he saw entire buildings had caved in and crumbed cement littered the town, he said.
Grateful that they were not hurt, Freedman and Gandelman are now trying to figure out a way to get back home. The control tower at the airport they planned to fly out of, which is near Manta, fell down and the airport is closed, Freedman said.
Twenty-two students and two teachers from Redwood High School were in Ecuador during the earthquake. They are all safe and heading back to the Bay Area, according to Principal David Sondheim.
The Bay Area is no stranger to earthquakes.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, measurements of an earthquake that struck in the early morning hours of April 18, 1906 quake have ranged from magnitude 7.7 to 8.3. More than 1,000 people died due to the damage and fires caused by the tremors.
In San Francisco, officials had – rather fortuitously – planned an earthquake drill on Sunday.
Some of the training, intended to mark the anniversary of the Great Earthquake, occurred in the Marina, which suffered significant damage in the magnitude-6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1969.
Firefighters went through several disaster response drills with about 200 volunteers with the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team. Members go through about 20 hours of training and lessons to get certified about what to do and the best ways to help – starting with taking care of themselves and their families.
"We also give practical response skills, such as providing basic medical care for people who are having critical injuries … search and rescue in lightly damaged buildings so that fire resources can do heavily damaged buildings," said Lt. Erica Arteseros with the San Francisco Fire Department.
Mayor Ed Lee issued a statement on the recent quakes, extending thoughts prayers to the people of Japan and Ecuador.
"I would like to express our city’s condolences to the families and friends of those injured or killed in the aftermath of these devastating earthquakes," he wrote.
Lee also promised to support any international assistance efforts.
"These stark reminders remind us that we must always be prepared. It’s not if, but when, the next disaster will strike," his statement said in part.
NBC Bay Area's sister station KCRA contributed to this report.