Death toll rises to 413 in Ecuador quake

Death toll rises to 413 after Ecuador quake while rescuers still pull out survivors

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

An emergency personnel member looks on next to debris in Pedernales, after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, April 18, 2016.

Ecuador’s government on Monday raised the death toll following a powerful earthquake that struck off the country’s Pacific coast on Saturday to 413.

Security Minister Cesar Navas added that the number of people injured has also risen from an earlier toll of 2,068.

In the aftermath of the quake, survivors rested amid the rubble of their homes and rescuers endeavoured to reach to survivors in the Andean nation's shattered coastal region.

Tearful relatives looking for loved ones grabbed chunks of debris with their bare hands as they joined in the search alongside stretched firefighting teams.

In towns such as Manta and Portoviejo on the Pacific coast, the stench of rotting bodies filled the tropical air among heaps of rubble and twisted metal.

"My husband is under there," said Veronica Paladines, 24, tearing at a mound of debris that used to be a hotel in Manta, with tears flooding down her cheeks.

Collapsed and damaged buildings are pictured in Pedernales, after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, April 18, 2016. [Reuters]

Giving the new tally of fatalities from the city of Portoviejo inside the disaster zone, President Rafael Correa said he feared the number would rise even further.

"Reconstruction will cost billions of dollars," he also said, chatting with victims and appearing deeply moved as he toured the shattered town in the OPEC nation whose economy was already reeling from the global slump in crude oil prices.

Tents sprang up in the town's still-intact stadium to store bodies, treat the injured, and distribute water, food, and blankets. Survivors wandered around with bruised limbs and bandaged cuts, while those with more serious injuries were evacuated to hospitals.

The government's response was relatively speedy, with Vice President Jorge Glas flying into the disaster zone within hours and Correa coming straight back from a trip in Italy.

While the full extent of the damage remains unclear, the disaster will dramatically affect Ecuador's oil revenue-dependent economy, which was already forecast for near-zero growth this year due to global oil price drop.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa (C) speaks with residents after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, April 18, 2016. [Reuters]

The energy industry appeared largely intact although the main refinery of Esmeraldas was closed as a precaution. However, exports of bananas, flowers, cocoa beans and fish could be slowed by ruined roads and port delays.

About 230 aftershocks have frightened survivors, who huddled in the streets, worried the tremors could topple their already cracked homes.

"We're scared of being in the house," said Yamil Faran, 47, surrounded by some 30 people in a street in Portoviejo. "When ... the aftershocks stop, we're going to see if we can repair it."

About 130 inmates in Portoviejo took advantage of the destruction and chaos to escape from El Rodeo prison. More than 35 had been recaptured, authorities said Sunday night.

Some were recaptured or returned later, but police are hunting for the others, Justice Minister Ledy Zuniga tweeted.

About 13,500 security personnel were mobilised to keep order.

Firemen work after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. [Reuters]

Some $600 million in credit from multilateral lenders was immediately activated for the emergency, the government said.

Ecuador's Foreign Minister Guillaume Long said via Twitter that experienced rescuers were arriving from Switzerland, Spain, and other Latin American countries including Mexico and Peru. Cuba said it was sending a medical brigade to treat victims.

Domestic aid funds were being set up and Venezuela, Chile and Mexico were sending personnel and supplies.

The Spanish Red Cross said in a statement it estimated that up to 100,000 people would need assistance.

The Ecuadorean Red Cross mobilised more than 800 volunteers and staff and medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was sending a team from Colombia.

TRTWorld and agencies