Ecuador quake toll hits 350; search continues for survivors

PEDERNALES (Ecuador) • The death toll from Ecuador's worst earthquake in decades rose to 350 yesterday as traumatised survivors rested amid the rubble of their homes and rescuers dug for survivors in the Andean nation's shattered coastal region.

Last Saturday's 7.8-magnitude quake ripped apart buildings and roads, knocked out power, and injured at least 2,068 people in the largely poor country of 16 million people, causing panic as far away as highland capital Quito.

In the devastated beach town of Pedernales, shaken survivors curled up for the night on mattresses or plastic chairs next to the rubble of their homes. Dazed residents recounted a violent shake, followed by a sudden collapse of buildings that trapped people in wreckage.

Soldiers and police patrolled the streets while teams of rescue workers ploughed on. Late into the night, firefighters clambered through the rubble and used jackhammers to break through slabs potentially covering victims.

Tents sprung up in the town's still-intact stadium to store bodies, treat the injured and distribute water, food and blankets to survivors.


A rescue worker pulling a victim out of the rubble on Sunday in the devastated beach town of Pedernales, one of the worst-hit areas. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said via Twitter that experienced rescuers were arriving from Switzerland, Spain and Latin American countries, including Mexico and Peru.

Leftist President Rafael Correa, who cut short a visit to Italy, surveyed the damage in the coastal province of Manabi on Sunday night. "Ecuador has been hit tremendously hard," he said in a televised address, adding that the toll "will certainly rise".

About 230 aftershocks have rattled survivors, who huddled in the streets, worried that the flow of tremors could topple their already-cracked homes.

In the city of Portoviejo, the temblor knocked down walls in a prison, allowing 100 inmates to escape. Some returned or were recaptured later.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2016, with the headline 'Ecuador quake toll hits 350; search continues for survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe