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Hundreds missing after Ecuador earthquake

Nik Martin (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)April 20, 2016

A government registry created to track casualties has listed up to 231 missing people, as the death toll continues to rise. Eleven foreigners were among an estimated 570 people killed in Saturday's earthquake.

Ecuador earthquake
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R.Buendia

Ecuador: The search for survivors continues

The scale of Saturday night's disaster continued to shock Ecuadorians Wednesday as officials tallied the number of people who were still unaccounted for.

While the defense ministry put the number of missing people at 231, another official register of those still absent after the magnitude-7.8 quake reached 2,000. It was not clear how many of those people had been located in the interim. The death toll of about 570 was expected to continue to rise.

Although several people were pulled from the rubble alive on Tuesday, rescue workers said they were losing hope of finding more survivors, as the recovery effort entered its fourth day.

Teams continued to use excavators, sniffer dogs and bare hands to hunt through the more than 1,500 homes, businesses and hotels that collapsed.

Saturday's tragedy happened a day after Japan was hit by twin earthquakes.

Thousands need help

The country's National Risk Management Agency (SNGR) said more than 20,000 people had fled their homes, and the Spanish Red Cross estimated that as many as 100,000 people would require assistance in the quake's aftermath.

Ecuador earthquake
Several coastal towns were flattened in Saturday's quakeImage: Reuters/G.Granja

A major international rescue and aid operation went into full swing Tuesday following a request from the Ecuadorian government. Officials said 13 countries were providing aid to the recovery efforts and more than 600 international experts were helping on the ground.

The United Nations said it was planning a "major airlift," and Oxfam was sending around 2,000 kilos of emergency supplies.

The World Food Program said Monday it had sent a convoy with enough food to feed 8,000 people for 15 days.

Neighbor Peru sent two planes loaded with humanitarian aid.

"A Hercules is carrying about 15 tons of staple foods and a C27-Spartan is carrying 6 tonnes of blankets, mosquito nets and some other items that will help the thousands of victims from our brother country of Ecuador," Peruvian President Ollanta Humala told reporters.

US President Barack Obama told his Ecuadorian counterpart that Washington would do "all it can to support the recovery," while the American development agency USAID deployed a team of disaster experts to the country.

Lasting economic damage

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said the quake inflicted between $2 billion and $3 billion of damage to the oil-dependent economy and could knock two to three percentage points off growth.

Aid arrives
Aid agencies and a dozen countries have promised to helpImage: Reuters/H. Romero

"Let's not kid ourselves - it will be a long struggle ... reconstruction for years, billions (of dollars) in investment," said Correa. "In the short term we're going to need tens of millions of dollars."

Officials said the list of 11 foreigners among the dead was likely to rise because the epicenter of the quake was an area of laid-back, pristine beaches popular with foreign tourists and expats.