Quake death toll in Ecuador surpasses 500 as country braces for costly rebuilding

Search teams in Ecuador turn their efforts to clearing bodies instead of finding survivors, days after the country was hit by a deadly earthquake.
A man stares at the rubble in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 20, 2016.
A man stares at the rubble in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 20, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

PEDERNALES, Ecuador (REUTERS) - The death toll from Ecuador's weekend earthquake surpassed 500 and rescue efforts ebbed on Wednesday (April 20) as the traumatised Andean nation braced itself for long and costly rebuilding ahead.

Another quake, of 6.2 magnitude, shook the coast before dawn on Wednesday. It terrified inhabitants and briefly hindered rescuers searching for the dwindling number of survivors from Saturday's bigger 7.8 quake, which killed 525 people, according to a central government tally.

"You can't imagine what a fright it was. 'Not again!,' I thought," said Ms Maria Quinones in Pedernales town, which bore the brunt of Saturday's disaster.

To help fund the multibillion-dollar reconstruction of homes, roads and buildings in the devastated Pacific coast region, Ecuador may issue new bonds on the international market, a somber President Rafael Correa said.

"It's hard to imagine the magnitude of the tragedy. Every time we visit a place, there are more problems," he said, fresh from touring the disaster zone.


Mr Correa said the weekend disaster had inflicted US$2 billion to US$3 billion (S$2.7 billion - S$4 billion) of damage and could knock 2 to 3 percentage points off growth, meaning the economy will almost certainly shrink this year.

Lower oil revenue had already left the poor nation of 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment.

"We're looking at the possibility of issuing bonds on the international market, but other measures have been planned, a tax reform is being discussed," M r Correa said, without giving more details.


Ecuador had been saying before the quake that current high yields would make it too expensive to issue debt. Yields on its bonds are close to 11 percentage points higher than comparable US Treasury debt, according to JPMorgan data.

Leftist Correa's government in 2008 defaulted on debt with a similar yield, calling bondholders "monsters" and the value unfair. His government has since returned to Wall Street, however, and Ecuador currently has some US$3.5 billion worth of bonds in circulation.

Still, creditors are likely to be wary following the quake.

Four days after the quake, some isolated communities struggled without water, power or transport, although aid was trickling in. Along the coast, stadiums served as morgues and aid distribution centres, though torn up roads were slowing the delivery of some supplies.

"I'm waiting for medicines, diapers for my grandson, we're lacking everything," said Ms Ruth Quiroz, 49, as she waited in an hour-long line in front of a makeshift pharmacy set up at the Pedernales stadium.

On a highway outside the town, some children sat holding placards saying "food, please".

Scores of foreign aid workers and experts have arrived in the aftermath of Saturday's disaster and about 14,000 security personnel have kept order, with only sporadic looting reported. But rescuers were losing hope of finding anyone alive even as relatives of the missing begged them to keep looking.

Speaking from the highland capital Quito, Mr Correa said the death toll would likely rise further, though at a slower rate than in previous days.

"May these tears fertilise the soil of the future," the deeply-moved president said.