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Irish nun Sister Clare 'died trying to help others' in Ecuador earthquake

Published 18/04/2016

Sister Clare Theresa Crockett was killed in the earthquake in Ecuador (Home of the Mother order/PA Wire)

A young Irish nun described by her family as a superstar died with five others in the Ecuador earthquake as she tried to lead them to safety.

Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, 33, was the last to be dug out of the rubble after a stairwell collapsed in the school where she taught in Playa Prieta in the western province of Manabi.

More than 200 people were killed in the powerful quake which hit the south American country on Saturday.

Sr Clare, from the Brandywell area of Derry city, was a nun with the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother and taught 400 children in the Colegio Sagrada Familia school, including how to play the guitar.

She was with six Ecuadorian postulants, in the early stages of joining the order, when the disaster struck.

"She was a superstar. Everybody loved her," her cousin Emmet Doyle said.

He said Sr Clare had been teaching music before the earthquake hit, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale.

More than 260 people died and 2,500 others were injured with the epicentre 16 miles (26km) from Muisne in a sparsely populated area of fishing ports popular with tourists.

"She was the last sister found," Mr Doyle said.

"She was trying to get them down the stairs and the staircase collapsed. We knew she was trapped but information has been slow to come out.

"She died as she lived, helping others."

The US Geological Survey said it was a shallow quake and it was the strongest to hit the country since 1979.

A state of emergency was declared in six of Ecuador's 24 provinces - with 10,000 armed forces deployed and 4,600 national police sent to the towns near the epicentre.

Four nuns had been in one of the school buildings, where they lived on the third floor, when the quake hit.

Another Irish nun Sr Therese Ryan, 36, was the first pulled free with a fractured ankle and several bruises. Two others were rescued, Sr Estela Morales, 40, the superior from Spain and S r Merly Alcybar, 34, from Ecuador, who survived a wall falling on her.

The five dead postulants were named by the Order as Jazmina, Mayra, Maria Augusta, Valeria and Catalina .

Two others were pulled from the rubble after their voices were heard.

"Sister Clare had spent nearly 15 years of her life in consecration to the Lord," Sr Teresa of the Order in Cantabria, Spain said.

"She was a generous sister with a special gift for reaching out to children and young people."

Sr Clare's family appealed for privacy and said: "We lost our daughter, sister and aunt Sister Clare Theresa Crockett as a result of the earthquake in Ecuador ."

The nuns, including Sr Clare, were working in recent days on flood relief efforts after the region was devastated by heavy rains before the quake hit.

The Order said: "The flooding left countless families stranded, without homes.

"A friend of the community had recently written to us, just days before, commenting his admiration for the Sisters: "The Sisters are smiling as always, but you can tell they're exhausted from all the work."

No students were in the school at the time of the quake.

Homes, buildings and roads have been reduced to rubble across the province of Manabi - with more than 70% of the town of Pedernales, a town of 40,000, destroyed and the nearest hospital to Playa Pieta, in Portoviejo, collapsed.

The rescued nuns were dug out of the building by local men with inadequate equipment, the Order said.

The injured were driven from Playa Prieta to Guayaquil in makeshift ambulances made by putting couches in the back of a pick-up truck.

During the search and rescue effort an intense aftershock toppled what was left of the building with Sr Clare and the postulants under the wreckage.

Sr Clare joined the Order aged 18 and worked in Spain, the US and other parts of the world before going to Ecuador.

Ireland's Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan offered condolences to her family.

"The tributes paid to Sister Crockett since the weekend are a testament to the difference she made to the lives of the community she served," he said.

"On behalf of the Government and people of Ireland, I also want to extend our sincere condolences to the people of Ecuador on the tragic and heavy loss of life from Saturday's devastating earthquake. Our thoughts are with the families of all those who were killed as they mourn their loss."

Northern Ireland's First and Deputy First Ministers Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness offered sympathies.

" Sr Clare devoted her life to children and young people and died selflessly helping those in need in Ecuador," Mr McGuinness said.

"Her death has shocked and saddened the entire community in Derry and further afield."

"It's very, very sad," Ms Foster said.

"My deepest sympathy goes to the family in Londonderry.

"I understand this lady joined an order and went out to serve and it is very sad to hear she has lost her life in Ecuador."

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