Andean nation Ecuador was rattled by a powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake Saturday night, the strongest in decades, which killed at least 233 people and injured 600 others, causing massive damage in capital city Quito and in the large commercial city of Guayaquil, according to Reuters.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa took to Twitter to confirm the death toll had risen dramatically overnight, before adding that many more people might be buried under the debris.
Vice President Jorge Glas announced a state of emergency in six provinces across the northwestern South American nation in the wake of the earthquake, issuing tsunami warnings in the coastal cities and villages of Ecuador, which were among the worst affected by the disaster.
Such was the magnitude of the earthquake that deaths were reported in cities like Manta and Portoviejo — both several hundred miles from the epicenter of the quake.
Of the coastal areas, Pedernales, a tourist spot with beaches and palm trees, was left completely ravaged based on initial information available from the area, which has been scant on account poor communications and transport chaos. People slept on the streets fearing aftershocks, while men used car headlights in attempts to rescue survivors trapped under the rubble, reports CBS.
The mayor of Pedernales, Gabriel Alcivar, said the number of casualties may rise steeply in a radio interview, confirming that “dozens and dozens” had died in the villages populating the coastal province.
“We’re trying to do the most we can, but there’s almost nothing we can do. There are villages that are totally devastated. What happened here in Pedernales is catastrophic.”
President Rafael Correa, who was on a state visit to Rome when the earthquake struck Ecuador, headed to Manta straight from the Italian capital. Before he left for his home country, however, he released a statement to state TV in which he mourned the lives lost in the tragedy.
“Everything can be rebuilt, but what can’t be rebuilt are human lives, and that’s the most painful,” was his message to the people of Ecuador.
Meanwhile, Ecuador’s Risk Management agency confirmed that 10,000 army personnel, 3,500 national police personnel, and 500 firefighters had been deployed in the affected areas to speed up the process of rescuing people in need of help.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, social media was abuzz with photos of homes reduced to rubble, a shopping center’s roof torn apart, supermarket shelves shaking violently, and a collapsed highway overpass that crushed a car.
The video below, uploaded online by a witness Emilio Vargas, shows the destruction in a mall in the city of Portoviejo.
The earthquake in Ecuador followed a similarly powerful earthquake which struck Japan on the same day, which was the second of two quakes in a period of three days in the island nation. The two earthquakes, the second of which was magnitude-7.3, killed more than 40 people in Japan and left approximately 62,000 homes without electricity and 300,000 homes without water, according to BBC.
Although the two counties are far apart in the world map, they both lie in the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of high volcanic and seismic activity which covers around 25,000 miles (40,000 km) around the world.
[Photo by AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa]