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Ecuador quake kills 413 as Derry family struggle to come to terms with Sister Clare's death in disaster

By Donna Deeney

Search and rescue teams are racing to find survivors buried under collapsed buildings in Ecuador as one Londonderry family struggle to come to terms with the death of Sister Clare Theresa Crockett killed in the earthquake.

Authorities have said 413 people have been killed in the disaster after it struck at the weekend. Over 2,500 have been injured in what Ecuador President Rafael Correa described as the biggest tragedy to hit the country in the past seven decades.

Many areas have been reduced to mere rubble and almost 15,000 emergency workers have been working tirelessly to find survivors.

Sister Clare was the last to be dug out of the rubble after a stairwell collapsed in the school where she taught in Playa Prieta in Ecuador.

She was killed in the powerful 7.8 magnitude quake which hit the north western region of the South American country on Saturday.

From the Brandywell area of Derry, Sister Clare 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.

The 33-year-old was with six Ecuadorian postulants, in the early stages of joining the order, when the disaster struck.

Five other members of her Order were also killed.

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

"She was the last sister found. 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 Home of the Mother order confirmed the death of Sr Clare on their website and asked for prayers.

In a statement the order said: "The bodies of the missing Sister and girls have been found amongst the rubble.

"We ask for prayers for their souls, so that they may soon be in God's presence, seeing Him face to face.

"We also ask for prayers for their families, so that the Lord may bring a greater good of their suffering."

While her family living in the Long Tower area try to come to terms with the devastating news, tributes have been paid by those who knew her and those who offered deep condolences.

One of her relatives said the whole family are struggling with the enormity of their loss.

He said: "Clare died doing what she lived her life doing and that was helping people.

"She has been a missionary for the past 15 years and has travelled all over working with the poor and the needy. We are all immensely proud of her and when we heard she was among the dead in Ecuador it sent a deep shock throughout the whole family that we are trying to come to terms with."

Sr Clare joined the Home of the Mother order when she was just 18 years of age - a move that surprised even those who knew her well. Among them is Fr Roland Colhoun, a friend and spiritual director of the youth group Sr Clare belonged to when she was a student at St Cecilia's school. Fr Colhoun comforted the family when the dreadful news came that the young vibrant girl so loved by every one was among the 270 victims killed.

Fr Colhoun said: "Clare was a dynamic, tenacious young woman and her family are understandably feeling great pain right now.

"The news of her death has affected me deeply, I was speaking about her during morning Mass and found myself struggling to talk but Clare was doing God's work right up until her last second on this earth, she was helping the poor and the needy.

"Looking back I was surprised when she said she was going to be a nun because that is a very unusual thing for a young person to do these days.

"I shouldn't really have been surprised because Clare was full of joy and courage and Our Lord and his Blessed Mother chose her for their work and she was doing that with her usual tenacity." Foyle MP Mark Durkan, who has close associations to the family, offered his sympathy.

He said: "While no words can console Sr Clare's family on the loss of such a special person, I hope that everyone's sympathy and support will bring them some comfort at this very sad time."

His sentiment was shared by the Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness who added: "Sr Clare devoted her life to children and young people and died selflessly helping those in need in Ecuador.

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

Speaking on behalf of the entire city of Derry, Mayor Elisha McCallion said: "The sympathies of the people of the Derry City and Strabane District Council go out to her family and friends, and indeed the wider Church community."

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Flanagan added: "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."

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