7.8-magnitude earthquake hits Ecuador; many killed

GUAYAQUIL: Police look at a car crushed under a collapsed overpass in Guayaquil, Ecuador on Saturday, April 16, 2016. The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades flattened buildings and buckled highways along the country's coast, killing at least 77 people and causing damage hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter in the capital and other major cities. Photo:AP/PTI

GUAYAQUIL: Police look at a car crushed under a collapsed overpass in Guayaquil, Ecuador on Saturday, April 16, 2016. The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades flattened buildings and buckled highways along the country’s coast, killing at least 77 people and causing damage hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter in the capital and other major cities.
Photo:AP/PTI

A powerful, 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador’s central coast, killing at least 77 people, officials and news reports said. Such was the magnitude that the shocks reached the Andean capital of Quito which lies some 170 kilometres from the epicentre.

The US Geological Survey said the Saturday night quake, the strongest in decades to hit Ecuador, was centred 27 kilometres south-southeast of Muisne, in a sparsely populated area of fishing ports that’s popular with tourists.

In the latest earthquake update, Vice President Jorge Glas confirmed 77 deaths with more than 588 people injured. The death toll is expected to go up as more information comes in.

On social media residents shared photos of homes collapsed, the roof of a shopping centre coming apart and supermarket shelves shaking violently. Even airports in the worst-affected regions were closed as they suffered damages.

President Rafael Correa, who is in the Vatican after attending a papal conference, called on Ecuadorians to show strength while authorities monitor events.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said hazardous tsunami waves are possible for some coasts. While the government hadn’t issued a tsunami alert, Vice President Glas urged residents along the coast to move to higher ground and towns near the epicentre.

“It’s very important that Ecuadorians 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. The quake knocked out electricity and cellphone coverage in several neighbourhoods in the capital.

“I’m in a state of panic,” said Zoila Villena, one of many Quito residents who congregated in the streets. “My building moved a lot and things fell to the floor. Lots of neighbours were screaming and kids crying.”

The USGS originally put the quake at a magnitude of 7.4 then raised it to 7.8. It had a depth of 19 kilometres. Several aftershocks, some as strong as 5.6 on the Richter scale, continued in the hour after the first quake, which occurred at nightfall.

MINAMIASO:  Police officers search for missing persons near houses destroyed by landslide in Minamiaso, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan on Sunday, April 17, 2016. After two nights of earthquakes, flattened houses and triggered major landslides in southern Japan, 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes, according to a Kumamoto prefectural official. Photo: AP/PTI

MINAMIASO: Police officers search for missing persons near houses destroyed by landslide in Minamiaso, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan on Sunday, April 17, 2016. After two nights of earthquakes, flattened houses and triggered major landslides in southern Japan, 91,000 people had evacuated from their homes, according to a Kumamoto prefectural official.
Photo: AP/PTI

This comes after a series of devastating earthquakes in the Japanese island of Kyushu in the last few days which has claimed at least 41 lives and resulted in major destruction of property.