The death toll from Ecuador’s biggest earthquake in decades soared to 272 on Sunday as survivors cobbled together makeshift coffins to bury loved ones, lined up for water and sought shelter beside the rubble of their shattered homes.
The 7.8 magnitude quake struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday and was felt around the Andean nation of 16 million people, causing panic as far away as the highland capital Quito and destroying buildings, bridges and roads.
“Ecuador has been hit tremendously hard… This is the greatest tragedy in the last 67 years,” said a shaken President Rafael Correa, who rushed back to Ecuador from a visit to Italy.
“There are signs of life in much of the rubble and that is the priority,” Correa said in a televised address to the nation.
He confirmed 272 deaths and 2,068 injured and said he feared those figures would increase.
Coastal areas nearest the epicenter were hit hardest, especially Pedernales, a rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees now laden with debris from pastel-colored houses.
Late into the night, firefighters clambered through the rubble and used jackhammers to break through concrete slabs potentially covering victims. Crowds looked on while others curled up for the night amid the debris.
Dazed residents recounted a violent shake, followed by a sudden collapse of buildings that trapped people in wreckage.
“You could hear people screaming from the rubble,” Agustin Robles said as he waited in a line of 40 people for water outside a stadium in Pedernales. “There was a pharmacy where people were stuck and we couldn’t do anything.”
There were more than 200 aftershocks, mainly in the Pedernales area. A state of emergency was declared in six provinces.
The quake has piled pain on the economy of OPEC’s smallest member, already reeling from low oil prices, with economic growth this year projected at near-zero.
Read more: http://www.torontosun.com/2016/04/16/strong-ecuador-quake-kills-28-causes-considerable-damage