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Ecuador authorities still looking for survivors in the rubble after massive earthquake

More than 2,500 people have been injured and emergency workers from Ecuador and other countries are working desperately to rescue those trapped in the rubble

Rachael Revesz
New York
Monday 18 April 2016 19:49 BST
Workers remove a body from the rubble of a collapsed building
Workers remove a body from the rubble of a collapsed building (AP)

The death toll in Ecuador continued to rise on Monday, jumping from 232 to at least 413 fatalities after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck on Saturday evening.

Those injured have amounted to over 2,500, and more people are thought to be trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Emergency services and their search dogs were still working furiously on Monday to find survivors, while thousands of people were sleeping overnight in temporary shelters or outside.

The deadly quake struck at 7pm on Saturday, 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) - an area full of fishing ports and popular with tourists.

President Rafael Correa rushed back from Rome and Vice President Jorge Glas was on the scene within hours, urging Ecuadoreans to “stay strong”.

Authorities deployed 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers to the affected regions, setting up temporary hospitals and shelters.

Wet weather, mountainous terrain and a lack of water and communication were all complicating the rescue operation for workers.

“The first hours are crucial,” President Rafael Correa said on Sunday night. “We're finding signs of life in the rubble. We're giving this priority. After, we'll work to find and recover bodies.”

The hardest hit area was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died, according to Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador's national emergency management office.

Fernando, who lives in Quito, told The Independent he was just about to head to a party with his wife when the tremors started, and they stood beneath a doorframe.

“It felt pretty strong and lasted longer than usual, like for a minute or more. Then immediately it was impossible to call anyone, all the lines were down,” he said. “I’ve felt several quakes in my life. This time I could only compare it to my time in California, the earthquake in 1989."

In Ecuador, it was the deadliest to hit since March 1987, when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.

Fernando's friend, Bernarda V., who lives just south of Manta, one of the hardest hit areas, told him she was safe, as were her parents in a nearby town. She had to walk home along the beach as the roads were damaged.

“We still have no electricity and the cell phone lines are still congested,” she said in an email.

All six coastal provinces - Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos - have been declared states of emergency.

Pedernales, the location of the quake's epicenter, was mostly destroyed, a fishing town where many people built their own homes out of cement blocks that were vulnerable to shaking.

Neighboring countries including Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela and Peru, as well as Spain, sent people to help the rescue and aid, while the US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US will help “in any way they can”.

David Rothery, Professor of Planetary Geosciences at The Open University, said the earthquake’s epicenter was onshore, which meant there was little chance that a tsunami would follow.

Japan also suffered two earthquakes on Thursday and Saturday, killing dozens, and 250,000 people have been told to evacuate in case of further shocks. The quakes are apparently not connected to that in Ecuador, according to Mr Rothery.

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