Ecuador quake toll rises to 233, emergency workers rush in

People search for their belongings amid the debris of their destroyed homes, after a massive earthquake in Pedernales, Ecuador on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: Dolores Ochoa

Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades, a 7.8 magnitude tremor, struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday, killing at least 77 persons and causing damage near the epicenter as well as in the largest city of Guayaquil.

Latest updates (all times IST)

9.00 pm: Mr. Correa reported the death toll on his official Twitter account while flying back from Rome to deal with the crisis.

8.46 pm: Ecuador President Rafael Correa raises death toll from quake to 233.

8.40 p.m: “Everything can be rebuilt, but what can’t be rebuilt are human lives, and that’s the most painful,” says President Rafael Correa.

7.30 p.m.: Officials said shelters had been set up and emergency portable hospitals were being deployed.

On social media, photos circulated of homes reduced to rubble, a shopping center’s roof torn apart, supermarket shelves shaking violently and a collapsed highway overpass that crushed a car. In Manta, the airport was closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air traffic control worker and a security guard.

6.25 p.m.: Authorities in Ecuador are mobilising resources and help is getting to the ground after a long night of fear and uncertainty caused by a magnitude—7.8 earthquake that killed at least 77 people.

Vice President Jorge Glas is overseeing efforts until President Rafael Correa makes an emergency return from a visit to Rome. Glas arrived Sunday morning in Manta along the coast along with dozens of rescuers. The city’s airport is badly damaged, but is receiving relief flights.

National airline TAME has already organized two humanitarian airlifts with members of the Red Cross and police reinforcements.

More than a dozen roads have been closed due to damage from the earthquake, making it harder for rescuers to reach where they are needed most.

The Transportation Ministry says that the hardest hit was Manabi province, near the epicenter. Eight major roads there were either closed or partially collapsed from landslides or strong movements of the earth.

6.20 p.m.: Ecuador’s seismological institute is reporting more than 135 aftershocks following Saturday’s magnitude—7.8 quake that ravaged the country’s coastline.

The strongest occurred overnight around 2 a.m. local time about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the main quake’s epicenter and was felt in cities hundreds of miles kilometers away.

The U.S. Geological Survey said that quake had a magnitude of 5.6.

Authorities are warning that more aftershocks are in store in the coming hours and days.

5:06p.m.: Pope Francis has offered prayers for the people of Ecuador affected by the violent earthquake overnight “that caused numerous victims and great damage.”

Francis asked the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday to pray for those suffering in the aftermath of the magnitude—7.8 earthquake, as well as those hit by a separate magnitude—7.0 tremor in Japan early Saturday.

4:29 p.m.: Authorities in Ecuador say landslides are making it difficult for emergency workers to reach the towns hardest hit by a magnitude-7.8 earthquake.

3.45 p.m.: Ecuador’s earthquake is being described as 20 times stronger and releasing more energy than the one in Japan a day before.

David Rothery, a professor of planetary geosciences at The Open University, northeast of London, says the total energy released by the earthquake in Ecuador was “probably about 20 times greater” than the magnitude—7.0 quake in Japan.

Rothery says the quake in Ecuador began deeper underground than the recent Japan quakes, which would have lessened the shaking on the ground. But the greater loss of life and potentially greater damage in Ecuador can be attributed to the country’s less stringent construction codes for buildings and bridges.

Speaking to The Associated Press on Sunday, Rothery says “there is no causal relationship between the earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan.” He says about 20 magnitude-7 earthquakes occur “somewhere on the globe every year.”

3.20 p.m.: Authorities in Ecuador say landslides are making it difficult for emergency workers to reach the towns hardest hit by the earthquake.

Ecuador’s Public Works and Transport Ministry says 12 main roads have been closed. A landslide has shut down one road in Cotopaxi and a landslide warning has been issued for a road in Zamora Chinchipe.

The Home Ministry says five helicopters and over 80 buses are ferrying 4,000 police to the quake zone.

2.45 p.m: The strong earthquake in Ecuador also was a topic at a major meeting of oil-producing countries in Qatar.

Kabalan Abisaab, Ecuador’s ambassador to Qatar, spoke to journalists on the sidelines of the meeting in Doha He says “it’s a big disaster. We are very worried about the situation.”

The ambassador stressed his country was prepared for such disasters, though they still can cause massive destruction. He said Ecuadorean officials are working to help those affected. The Foreign Affairs ministry has opened a hotline for people living abroad seeking information on family members in the country.

2.20 p.m.: Ecuador’s Risk Management agency says residents who evacuated coastal towns because of the risk of a tsunami after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake can return home now.

The quake was centered on a sparsely populated area of fishing ports and tourist beaches, 170 kilometers northwest of Quito, the capital. The country’s vice president says at least 77 people have been reported killed by the quake, and over 570 injured.

Some 10,000 armed forces and hundreds of emergency workers and firefighters have been sent to the region after the quake flattened buildings and buckled highways. Several major highways have been closed.

(Rescue team members and patients react outside a clinic that was evacuated after tremors were felt resulting from an earthquake in Ecuador, in Colombia on Saturday. Photo: Reuters)

2.05 p.m.: Ecuador’s Risk Management agency says 10,000 armed forces have now been deployed to help people in the coastal area stuck by a magnitude-7.8 earthquake.

The quake was centred on a sparsely populated area of fishing ports and tourist beaches, 170 kilometres (105 miles) northwest of Quito, the capital.

In addition, the agency says 3,500 national police have been sent to the towns of Manabţ, Esmeraldas and Guayas y Santa Elena, and 500 firefighters have been sent to Manabi and Pedernales. Five shelters have been set up for those evacuated from their homes.

Officials say the quake, which struck on Saturday night, has killed at least 77 people and injured over 570.

A Reuters report says that an magnitude 6.1 earthquake struck southeast of the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Sunday.

The quake hit 277 kms (172.12 miles) south-southeast of the capital Nuku'alofa at a depth of 66 kms, the USGS said.

1.35 p.m.: Top officials say Ecuador is in a state of emergency and hundreds of rescue workers are rushing in after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck near its Pacific coast.

The Security Ministry says on its Twitter account that “every emergency protocol has been activated” and President Rafeal Correa says special quake rescue teams are coming in from Colombia and Mexico.

The Red Cross Ecuador says more than 1,200 volunteers are already working in rescue, evacuation and first aid operations.

(A damaged house is seen after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast in Manta, Ecuador. Photo: Reuters)

Vice President Jorge Glas says mobile phone operators are allowing free text services in the hard—hit Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces, allowing people to better reach their loved ones or report emergency situations.

Earlier, Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades, a 7.8 magnitude tremor, struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday, killing at least 77 persons and causing damage near the epicenter as well as in the largest city of Guayaquil.

President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency and urged the Andean nation's 16 million people to stay calm.

The Andean nation's government recommended residents leave coastal areas over concern for rising tides following the quake.

Authorities urged people to evacuate coastal areas for fear of rising tides. Alarmed residents streamed into the streets of the highland capital Quito, hundreds of kilometers (miles) away, and other towns across the nation.

The government said the death toll would likely rise and damages were “serious", especially in the western coastal areas nearest the quake and in Guayaquil.

“Unfortunately, up to the moment there are 41 citizens who have lost their lives,” said Vice President Jorge Glas, noting that it was the strongest quake to hit Ecuador since 1979.

The quake struck early evening at a depth of 20 km (12.4 miles), and was felt all around the country.

“I was in my house watching a movie and everything started to shake. I ran out into the street and now I don't know what's going to happen,” said Lorena Cazares, 36, a telecommunications worker in Quito.

Social media pictures showed a collapsed bridge in Guayaquil and a collapsed tower at an airport in the city of Manta.

“There is considerable damage in the area of the epicenter and also as far away as places like the city of Guayaquil,” the Geophysics Institute said in a bulletin, but gave no details.

It said the quake struck at around 8:00 p.m. (0100 GMT) at a depth of 20 km (12.4 miles).

Some parts of the capital were without power or telephone service, with many communicating only via Whatsapp. Photos on social media showed cracks in the walls of shopping centers.

The capital's municipal government later said power had been restored and there were no reports of casualties in the city.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meter (one to three feet) above tide level were possible for some coastal areas of Ecuador. Neighboring Peru issued a tsunami alert for the north of the country following the quake.

While the government hadn’t issued a tsunami alert, Glas urged residents along the coast to move to higher ground and towns near the epicenter were also being evacuated as a precautionary measure. An emergency had been declared in six provinces, he said.

“It’s very important that Ecuadoreans remain calm during this emergency,” Glas said.

In the capital, the quake was felt for about 40 seconds and people fled to the streets in fear. Quito is located about 170 kilometers (105 miles) from the quake’s epicenter. The quake knocked out electricity and cellphone coverage in several neighborhoods in the capital.

The quake was centered just off the coast at a shallow depth of 19 km (12 miles), according to the USGS.

Across the Pacific in Japan, a 7.3 magnitude tremor struck Kumamoto province early Saturday, killing at least 32 people, injuring about a thousand and causing widespread damage, in the second major quake to hit the island of Kyushu in just over 24 hours. The first, late on Thursday, killed nine.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 5:53:10 PM |

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