The death toll from Ecuador’s biggest earthquake in decades soared to at least 238 on Sunday as rescuers using tractors and bare hands hunted desperately for survivors in shattered coastal towns.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday and was felt around the Andean nation of 16 million people, causing panic as far away as the highland capital Quito and collapsing buildings and roads in a swath of western towns.
Ecuador quake toll rises to 233 dead
President Rafael Correa rushed home from a trip to Italy to supervise the emergency. “The immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble,” he said. “Everything can be rebuilt, but lives cannot be recovered, and that’s what hurts the most.” Visiting the quake zone, Vice President Jorge Glas said 238 had died and more than 1,500 people were injured.
Coastal areas nearest the epicenter were worst affected, especially Pedernales, a rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees, which appeared largely flattened.
“There are people trapped in various places, and we are starting rescue operations,” Glas said. Authorities said there were 163 aftershocks, mainly in the Pedernales area. A state of emergency was declared in six provinces.
Powerful 7.8 earthquake rocks Ecuador: USGS
One photo on social media purporting to be the entrance to Pedernales showed a torn-up road with a crushed car in the middle and people standing behind.
Local TV station Televicentro broadcast images from Pedernales showing locals using a small tractor to remove rubble and also searching with their hands for people buried underneath. Women cried after a corpse was pulled out. Locals said children were trapped.
In Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, rubble lay in the streets and a bridge fell on top of a car. “It was horrible, it was as if it was going to collapse like cardboard,” said Galo Valle, 56, who was guarding a building in the city where windows fell out and parts of walls broke.
“I prayed and fell to my feet to ask God to protect me.” About 13,500 security force personnel were mobilised to keep order around Ecuador, and $600 million in credit from multilateral lenders was immediately activated for the emergency, the government said. Parts of Quito were without power or phone service for several hours, but the city government said those services had been restored and there were no reports of casualties in the city.
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The government called it the worst quake in the country since 1979. In that disaster, 600 people were killed and 20,000 injured, according to the US Geological Survey.
The US State Department said in an email that it was working to confirm reports of Americans injured in the quake, though it had no reports of any US citizens killed.
In international aid, Venezuela, Chile and Mexico were sending personnel and supplies, the left-leaning Correa government said. US Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted his nation’s solidarity and offered assistance. Though tsunami warnings were lifted, coastal residents.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2016.