Free Press Journal

Ecuador still on the brink


Rescuers in desperate search for survivors of killer quake

Portoviejo (Ecuador): Rescuers in Ecuador clawed through collapsed buildings on Monday as they scrambled to find survivors of a powerful earthquake that killed 272 people, injured thousands, and caused widespread coastal destruction.

President Rafael Correa said the death toll will ‘certainly’ rise in the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck the small, oil-producing South American nation late Saturday.

The quake, the most powerful to strike Ecuador in decades, shattered hotels and homes along its Pacific coast popular with tourists and reduced several towns to rubble. More than 2,000 people were injured as structures tumbled during the quake or its dozens of aftershocks.

The capital Quito, farther inland, escaped with cracked walls and power outages, and the country’s strategic oil facilities appeared unscathed, officials 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.

In Portoviejo, a city 15 kilometres from the coast, the temblor knocked down walls in a prison, allowing 100 inmates to escape.
Some were recaptured or returned later, but police were hunting for the others, Justice Minister Ledy Zuniga tweeted.

Elsewhere in hard-hit Portoviejo, the stench of decaying bodies began to fill the tropical air as rescuers raced 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.

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.

President Correa visited the disaster zone on Saturday after cutting short an official trip to the Vatican. He said the latest toll of 272 dead “will certainly rise and probably in a considerable way” in the hours ahead. “There are still lots of bodies in the rubble,” he warned. “These are extremely difficult times, the biggest tragedy in the last 67 years.”

Correa made reference to the August 1949 earthquake near the central Ecuadoran city of Ambato that killed some 5,000 people and caused widespread destruction.

Among the worst-hit towns in the late Saturday quake was Pedernales, where Mayor Gabriel Alcivar estimated there were up to 400 more dead yet to be confirmed, many buried under the rubble of collapsed hotels.-(AFP)