The massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rattled Ecuador on Saturday evening has killed at least 246 people and injured more than 2500 others.
Rescue work is still on as the rescuers continue to dig through the rubble to look for survivors. The devastation was enormous as several towns have been razed to the ground, making it the worst earthquake in in Ecuador almost 40 years.
Officials have declared a state of emergency in the worst-hit provinces, and a national state of “exception,” both of which suspend certain civil rights and liberties to allow security forces and officials to react faster.
Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the quake’s epicenter was among the worst-hit towns. Frightened residents slept on the streets in Pedernales. Mayor Gabriel Alcivar estimated there were up to 400 more dead yet to be confirmed, many still trapped under the rubble of hotels that collapsed.
“Pedernales is devastated. Buildings have fallen down, especially hotels where there are lots of tourists staying…There are lots of dead bodies,” he told the local media.
In Portoviejo, the odour of decaying bodies started to fill the tropical air as rescuers raced against time to find survivors.
“We have already recovered three dead and we believe there are 10 to 11 people still trapped,” said one worker digging through the debris of what used to be a six-story hotel called El Gato.
Authorities set up shelters, field hospitals and distributed food packets and sleeping kits in the worst-hit areas.
Although the oil-producing South American nation frequently suffers seismic shudders because of its position on the Pacific rim’s Ring of Fire, the quake that lasted one whole minute instantly wrecked buildings, buckled highways and toppled power lines in the coastal zone popular with tourists.
Soldiers are now patrolling the beach town. Both the Red Cross and the army have set up a center to treat the injured and receive bodies.
Ecuador’s Geophysical Office reported “considerable” structural damage as far away as Guayaquil, Ecuador’s biggest city with more than two million people, which is 350 kilometres away.
President Rafael Correa cut short his trip to the Vatican and landed back in the country close to the disaster zone late on Sunday night to inspect the devastation, claimed his Twitter account.
“Everything can be rebuilt, but what can’t be rebuilt are human lives, and that’s the most painful,” Correa said in a telephone call to state TV before departing Rome for Manta.
(With inputs from agencies)