By Victoria Macchi
he death toll from a powerful earthquake in Ecuador surged to 238 on Sunday, as daylight aided rescue and recovery efforts from the overnight devastation. More than 1,500 are reported injured.
The latest figures from the office of President Rafael Correa more than triple earlier estimates.
The shallow 7.8 magnitude quake struck late Saturday along the South American country’s coast.
Initial reports indicate heavy damage in the coastal city of Manta. Rescue crews struggled to get to sparsely populated fishing ports and tourist beaches. The city of Pedernales, home to more than 40,000 people in Manabí Province, is “destroyed,” according to Correa.
Vice President Jorge Glas said early Sunday the death toll is likely to rise as reports from around the country come in. The mayor of Pedernales estimates there are up to 400 more dead yet to be confirmed.
“The country is in a state of disarray,” said Denis Suarez, journalist from VOA TV affiliate Teleamazonas. “The aftershocks have affected people not just physically, but emotionally. I was at the supermarket when the earthquake began. The cans fell on the floor, people ran, the electrical wiring was moving, we lost electricity. That night a lot of people were unable to sleep.”
Canada’s Global Affairs department, which handles the country’s diplomatic relations, says two of its citizens are among the dead.
There was hope amid the destruction, as firefighters dispatched to Manta from the capital rescued one woman trapped in rubble.
The earthquake was felt 170 kilometers away in the capital Quito, where it knocked out electricity and cell phone coverage in several neighborhoods. Buildings swayed for about 40 seconds, causing people to rush into the streets.
Quito-based journalist Luis Alberto Otero said residents in the capital are used to earthquakes, but it was how long Saturday’s shaking lasted that scared him.
“Everything moved,” he told VOA’s Latin America service Sunday. “I had to hold up the TV so it wouldn’t fall.”
“As soon as it was over, I got in my car. People were fleeing to the streets for safety. The power went out for a few hours and the phone lines were down; even today, a day later, it’s hard to get a line out.”