BRADENTON (FOX 13) - A local woman was texting with family in Ecuador when the earthquake hit. She knew something was wrong when the texts suddenly stopped.
Thousands of miles away from Ecuador, Gisel Herrera-Pardo and her mother made sure her aunt wouldn't miss out on a family member's wedding in Bradenton.
Saturday night, she and her mom began texting the details of the wedding to her aunt Marjorie back in Ecuador.
"She was sending pictures of the wedding all of us having fun," said Herrera-Pardo.
The reply messages from her aunt ended just as a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador.
"My mom texted her again at 8:30 after we found out about the news. She said, 'I just heard. I hope you are fine,' but that was never checked," she said.
Herrera-Pardo's family lives near the epicenter in the beach town of Pedernales.
"I took it well. I said, 'things are going to be okay. Let's stay positive.' Then it hit me and I thought, 'things are not well,'" said Herrera-Pardo.
Later that night, she received the gut-wrenching news in a phone call from her aunt Marjorie's daughter.
"I heard her crying and crying and crying. I just kept saying, 'no, no, no,' but she didn't answer. She didn't say anything," she said.
Her aunt Marjorie Macias and three of Marjorie's grandchildren, 4-year-old Thiago Zambrano, almost 2-year-old Elisa Cepeda, and 2-year-old Leah Macias had been killed. They were found under the rubble of the building where they lived.
"Till the end, she was hovering over those children. Trying to protect them," said Herrera-Pardo.
Now, Gisel keeps her phone glued to her hand. She waits for updates as her family sends her videos of the scene.
"It is very painful to not be there right now. My cousins are the ones left without their mother," she said.
Now their family is turning their grief into energy to try and help those who survived. They started a GoFundMe page to help their surviving relatives.
"If there is any way that people know who to send stuff, Ecuador has never prepared for such a big disaster. It is such a beautiful country, but we are not prepared," said Herrera-Pardo.