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Death toll rises to over 400 in Ecuador

April 19, 2016

The death toll has risen to over 400 in Ecuador, as relief work moved into a third day. The Pacific coastal region has suffered most, with more pain expected to come.

Image: Reuters/H. Romero

The death toll Tuesday stands at 413, up from 350 Monday, and is expected to rise. A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the 16-million-strong OPEC nation along the northwest coast on Saturday night.

The quake - Ecuador's strongest in decades - has injured at least 2,600 people, damaged over 1,500 buildings and forced 18,000 people to spend the last two nights in shelters, according to the government. The Spanish Red Cross estimated that up to 100,000 people would need assistance.

The government has mobilized about 13,500 security personnel to the affected areas after low-level looting was reported. Meanwhile, 130 inmates climbed over the collapsed walls of the town's low-security El Rodeo prison, although more than 35 were recaptured.

Among the dead were seven Colombians, an American, two Canadians, and a Catholic missionary nun from Northern Ireland who was killed along with three trainee nuns at a school. Three Cuban doctors died in a collapsed building in Pedernales.

A flattened car is seen under the debris of a collapsed building, after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, in town of Canoa, Ecuador April 18
A flattened car is seen under the debris of a collapsed building, after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, in town of Canoa, Ecuador April 18Image: Reuters/H. Romero

Rescue efforts

Rescue teams were reportedly still working along the country's Pacific coastline to look for the dozens of people still missing, although such efforts from Tuesday have become more of a search for corpses, Interior Minister Jose Serrano said Tuesday.

Almost 400 rescue workers have come from various Latin American neighbors, alongside 83 specialists from Switzerland and Spain. The US has said it will dispatch a team of disaster experts while Cuba is sending a team of doctors.

Christian Rivera, the head of emergency services for the capital, Quito, said that, depending on the circumstances, a person without serious injuries can survive up to a week in such conditions. "After that, there's a quick decline... and the rescuers' work becomes very difficult," he said.

Economic recovery

President Rafael Correa said Monday that rebuilding would cost billions of dollars. To finance the costs of the emergency, $600 million (530 million euros) in credit from multilateral lenders has been activated, the government said Monday, signing off on a credit line for $2 billion from the China Development Bank (CDB) to finance public investment.

China has been the largest financier of Ecuador since 2009, and the credit had been under negotiation before the quake.

The World Bank said it had a credit line of $150 million ready to help with reconstruction. The disaster may also push Correa, a leftist, to seek help from the International Monetary Fund.

Ecuador must rebuild amid a deep recession that has forced austerity on its finances, although the country's energy industry escaped any serious damage, with the main refinery of Esmeraldas working again on Monday night and expected to reach full capacity in a week.

Mother of all quakes

Ecuador frequently suffers seismic shudders because of its position on the Pacific Rim's "Ring of Fire." But this quake - which lasted a minute - was the worst in nearly 40 years.

Since 1900, Ecuador has been hit by seven earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher, with one in March 1987 killing about 1,000 people. The largest, in August 1949 near the central Ecuadoran city of Ambato killed 5,000 people.

jbh/jil (Reuters, AP, AFP)