Young Derry nun killed in Ecuador earthquake

Sister Clare Theresa Crockett
Sister Clare Theresa Crockett

A young Irish nun described as a superstar by her family has been killed in the earthquake in Ecuador.

Sister Clare Theresa Crockett, 33, died when a stairwell collapsed in the school she was working at in Playa Prieta.

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

Sister Clare, from Derry city, was a nun in the Home of the Mother order and had been teaching children in a rural part of the country, including how to play the guitar.

Her family paid a glowing tribute to her.

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

More than 260 people died and 2,500 others were injured in the powerful quake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale - the strongest to hit the country since 1979.

The US Geological Survey said the shallow quake that hit on Saturday evening was centred 16 miles (26km) from Muisne in a sparsely populated area of fishing ports popular with tourists.

A state of emergency has since been 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.

Homes, buildings and roads have been reduced to rubble - with more than 70% of the town of Pedernales, a town of 40,000, destroyed.

Sister Clare died along with a number of local girls in the school.

Her family said: “On Sunday 17th April, we lost our daughter, sister and aunt Sister Clare Theresa Crockett as a result of the earthquake in Ecuador.

“She was situated in a school in Playa Prieta with the Home of the Mother order. At this difficult time we would ask for privacy.”

Sr Clare was originally from the Brandywell area of Derry city.

Her family believes the missionary nun was trying to lead girls out of the school after the earthquake hit when the stairwell collapsed.

“She has been all over the world, working as a nun for 15 years. She was only 33,” Mr Doyle said.

“She had been teaching children that day, she had been teaching them how to play the guitar.”

It is understood Sr Clare was with at least two other girls who were candidates with the Spain-based order of nuns and others when the tragedy struck.

Her family were notified of the discovery of her body in the early hours of this morning.

“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 family home in the Brandywell area has been inundated with Sr Clare’s relatives and friends since the news broke locally that she had been missing over the weekend.

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

Irish consular officials in the embassy in Buenos Aires are accredited to Ecuador and are said to be ready to provide consular assistance to any affected Irish citizens.

The Servants of the Home of the Mother said six of their members died in the tragedy.

The five others were postulants, one of the early stages in formation before becoming a nun.

No children were in the school at the time of the collapse as the nuns and colleagues had been working to clean the building following bad floods in recent weeks.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster expressed her sympathies.

“It’s very, very sad,” she 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.”

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan offered condolences to Sister Clare’s 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.”