Dozens dead as powerful magnitude 7.8 tremor hits major city

Rescue crews searched desperately through rubble for survivors of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador. Reuters reports that the death toll from the quake currently stands at 350 people, with more than 2,500 injured.

“The immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble,” Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, said on Twitter.

A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has killed at least 77 people and injured more than 500. The quake, Ecuador’s largest since 1979, hit at 18:58 on Saturday (23:58 GMT) near the northern town of Muisne. The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck at a fairly shallow depth of 19.2km (11.9 miles), about 27km from Muisne in a sparsely populated area.

President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency, and said the, ‘Our infinite love to the families of the dead,’ Correa said on Twitter, while cutting short a trip to Italy to return home.

The vice-president, Jorge Glas, said it was the strongest quake to hit Ecuador since 1979. “We continue to receive information,” he said, adding that 16 people had died in the city of Poroviejo, 10 in Manta and others in the province of Guayas.

The power is out and phones are down. “The quake struck at a depth of 20 km (12.4 miles), and was followed by 55 aftershocks.

The government had recommended residents leave coastal areas after concerns about rising tides following the quake, but fears of hazardous waves have eased and locals were told they could return home. Earlier, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves of less than 0.3 metres above the tide level were possible along the coasts of Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru.

About 10,000 troops have been deployed to the coastal areas, with 3,500 extra national police officers sent to the towns of Manabí, Esmeraldas and Guayas y Santa Elena, and 500 firefighters sent to Manabi and Pedernales. Five shelters have been set up for those evacuated from their homes.

Carla Peralto, a resident of Boyaca, one of the worst-affected areas, told the BBC: “I never felt something like that in my life. It was so strong. I was feeling very, very scared… I was thinking ‘God, please stop that because maybe I die today’.

Guayaquil security guard Fernando Garcia said, ‘It was terrifying, we were all scared and we´re still out in the streets because we´re worried about aftershocks.’

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued a message saying that the threat of a tsunami had now mostly passed and that any remaining risk should be evaluated by local authorities.

Ecuador is well used to earthquakes. There have been seven 7.0 magnitude or greater events within 250km of this latest tremor since 1900. And some of these have resulted in very considerable loss of life, not just from the shaking but also from tsunami waves.

Many regional leaders, including the presidents of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, have expressed solidarity with Ecuador. The quake was also felt in Colombia, where patients in a clinic in the city of Cali were evacuated from the building.

Ecuador’s earthquake was about six times stronger and released more energy than the one in Japan a day before where more than 40 people died.

Police officers stand on debris in Tarqui neighborhood in Manta. Photo: Guillermo Granja/Reuters

Police officers stand on debris in Tarqui neighborhood in Manta. Photo: Guillermo Granja/Reuters