Death toll in Ecuador earthquake expected to rise

Quake of 7.8 magnitude, strongest to hit country since 1979, flattens whole towns

A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck off Ecuador’s Pacific coast on Saturday, April 17th. The government described it as the worst quake in the country since 1979. Video: CCTV


Some 10,000 troops and 4,600 police have been deployed to search for survivors following a powerful earthquake in Ecuador, with the official death toll rising to 233 yesterday.

A 7.8 magnitude quake struck on Saturday evening off Ecuador’s coast about 200km from the capital Quito, causing widespread damage to local communities. The tremor was the strongest to hit the country since 1979, and came only a day after a 7.3 magnitude quake struck Japan on the other side of the Pacific.

Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa declared a national emergency and cut short a visit to Rome. He urged Ecuadorians to stay strong while authorities handled the disaster and said support from neighbouring countries was on its way. “Immediate priority is to rescue those [trapped] among the rubble,” he said on Twitter.

People trapped

Gabriel Alcivar

“This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town,” he told local television.

Jorge Glas, Ecuador’s deputy president, said authorities were still trying to work out the exact number of casualties. “We have information of people injured and trapped in different cantons and we are preparing the rescue,” Mr Glas said as he headed to the coastal city of Manta, where the airport control tower had collapsed.

Officials said help was arriving from Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela. Operating with emergency equipment, an aircraft from Venezuela with humanitarian aid was able to land at Manta yesterday.

Ecuador’s geophysics institute described “considerable damage” in the area of the epicentre and in the country’s largest city, Guayaquil. The coastal area of Pedernales was rattled by 135 aftershocks, the institute said.

In Quito, residents said they felt the quake for almost a minute, which reportedly left parts of the city without power or telephone service. “The earthquake was felt strongly,” said Elena Ruiz, a non-governmental organisation worker based in the capital.

“I rushed down eight stories, trembling – my whole body was shaking.” She said the usually-calm streets of her leafy neighbourhood were packed with shocked and confused residents.

The governor of the city of Esmeraldas told El Telégrafo newspaper that 71 houses had been knocked down, while pictures online showed a collapsed bridge in Guayaquil. Several roads were closed, while production at the Esmeraldas oil refinery was halted.

The US geological service said “seven magnitude or greater earthquakes have occurred within 250km of this event since 1900”. The earthquake was also reportedly felt in parts of southern Colombia and northern Peru.

Ecuador’s government did not issue a tsunami alert, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the “tsunami threat has now largely passed”. – (Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2016)