Ecuador’s quake toll rises to 350, rescue underway

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CHONE, April 17, 2016 (Xinhua) — Residents stand in front of the debris of houses after an earthquake in the city of Chone, Manabi Province, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016. The strongest earthquake to jolt Ecuador in decades has killed 233 people, the country’s President Rafael Correa said on Sunday, as rescuers raced to dig out survivors trapped in the rubble. (Xinhua/Jorge Penafiel/EL UNIVERSO)

QUITO, April 18 (Xinhua) — The powerful earthquake that jolted Ecuador’s coast on Saturday has left at least 350 dead and over 2,000 others injured, according to authorities.

Vice President Jorge Glas said the priority was to continue searching for survivors in the rubble and help the injured.

The magnitude-7.8 quake occurred at 06:58 p.m. local time (2358 GMT) Saturday and was centered just off the country’s northwest coast at a depth of 10 km.

People in the capital city of Quito and the largest city of Guayaquil felt the strong tremor and buildings swayed when the quake hit.

It was the strongest quake that has hit Ecuador since 1979 and accessing the disaster zone was extremely difficult due to landslides in the hilly country.

The quake has generated at least 189 aftershocks of various strength, some as strong as 5.6 on the Richter scale.

Ecuador has declared a state of emergency in its six provinces and has mobilized around 14,000 army and public security forces to affected areas.

Residents react as they look at their homes damaged by the earthquake in the city of Manta, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016. The strongest earthquake to jolt Ecuador in decades has killed 233 people, the country’s President Rafael Correa said on Sunday, as rescuers raced to dig out survivors trapped in the rubble. (Xinhua/Str)

On Sunday afternoon, 20 hours after the quake, a young girl was rescued alive from the rubble of a building in Pedernales, a town of 40,000 people near the epicenter.

Her father, Emanuel Sisa, said this meant four members of his family had been saved, but five others had died.

On Sunday, Glas visited the affected cities of Manta, Pedernales and Portoviejo, in the northeastern province of Manabi, which have been difficult to reach due to damaged highways.

“We are facing logistical difficulties,” said Glas, noting that specialized rescue teams have reached the worst-hit zones, with technologies and supplies.

In Pedernales, at least 150 people are still missing, with 38 confirmed dead, according to the Interior Ministry.

The toll may rise further, with Mayor Gabriel Alcivar saying 60 percent of the city has been affected.p Drinking water and electricity outage remains for most of the town, with Internet access also very fragile.

Up to 90 percent of the hotels in Pedernales, a rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees, has been destroyed with tourists among the dead, local authorities said.

In Manabi’s capital city of Portoviejo, thousands of inhabitants were digging through the rubble in search of their loved ones, often using just their hands.

The earthquake devastated the financial and commercial center of Portoviejo, with banks, telecommunications headquarters and social security institutes all in rubble.

“Nothing is left standing. I have returned home to hug my wife and children. We were lucky,” Jaime Ugalde, editor of El Diario, Manabi’s largest newspaper, told the El Universo daily.

People try to rescue a victim trapped in a vehicle crushed by a bridge after an earthquake in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on April 16, 2016. (Xinhua/Ronald Cedeno/EL UNIVERSO)

At least 100 prisoners escaped from Portoviejo’s El Rodeo prison, Justice Minister Ledy Zuniga said Sunday.

Speaking to the Ecuavisa TV station, she said damage to the prison had allowed the inmates to escape, though the total number of the escapees was unknown.

She added that recapture efforts by police had begun, with around 30 inmates having been caught and others “returning voluntarily.”

On Sunday morning, with rescue efforts progressing too slowly, some inhabitants in Canoa, Manabi, took to social networks to ask for help.

Elizabeth Molina Alvarez repeatedly wrote on Facebook that she desperately needed a helicopter for her unconscious grandmother, with other users reposting her messages.

Till 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) Sunday, 12 bodies had been found in Canoa, according to El Universo, but reports said there are people still being trapped.

In Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest and most populous city, which saw heavy casualties and infrastructure damage, the focus was to recover the city’s traffic, such as reopening tunnels and switching back on energy plants and refineries.

The city had also secured eight municipal shelters as safe zones for people, should big aftershocks happen.

The Ecuadorian government has earmarked 300 million U.S. dollars for rescue and rebuilding efforts.

International humanitarian aid also began arriving. The United States and Mexico have sent teams and the Ecuadorian community in Spain has started a donation drive.

Ecuador sees frequent earthquakes, due to the collision of the Nazca Plate and the South American Plate. It is also affected by the Carnegie Ridge, an oceanic plateau off its coast. These active fault zones also mean that earthquakes in Ecuador often carry a tsunami threat.

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