As powerful aftershocks from Saturday’s deadly 7.8 earthquake continue to rock Ecuador’s coast, President Rafael Correa said Tuesday that early estimates put reconstruction costs at more than $3 billion.
“Recovering and rebuilding will be a long, painful process,” Correa said. “The cost will be great and the struggle will be difficult. I urge the people of Ecuador not to lose heart,” he said.
He added that no amount of money can replace the lives that have been lost.
As of Tuesday night, the death toll stood at 513, according to the office of the attorney general. Estimates vary widely about the number of those missing and presumably trapped in collapsed buildings, with some has high as 3,000 and others as low as 300. A spokesman for the attorney general said 1,000 is “a conservative estimate for those not accounted for.”
Among the dead are 14 foreigners, including four Canadians and three U.S. citizens, but the number is expected to rise as debris from dozens of collapsed hotels and hostals is removed.
Although seven more victims were rescued alive from the wreckage of fallen buildings on Tuesday, authorities say hope is fading quickly for finding more. In town after town, rescue workers were forced to wear masks as the smell of decomposing bodies filled the air. “We all know that it is getting late, but our first priority remains finding those who are still alive,” Correa said Tuesday.
As residents and rescuers continued their wait and their work, the most powerful aftershocks since Saturday’s 7.8 quake, rocked the ravaged region Tuesday. A 5.9 quake, centered near Muisne rattled nerves late in the afternoon while others of 5.0 and 4.8 shook Bahia de Caraquez and Jipijapa. Since the Saturday’s major earthquake, the region has recorded more than 400 aftershocks, 100 of them topping 4.0 on the Richter Scale.
Correa praised the efforts of donors and volunteers for supporting the rescue efforts. “The highways are filled with trucks bringing needed supplies, coming from all parts of Ecuador,” he said. “Airplanes are flying in from Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil. Thousands of volunteer workers have arrived to help. The people of Ecuador are in solidarity to help with this disaster.” He even gave a rare word of praise to the news media for providing critical information during the crisis.
Rescue teams from around the world have arrived to help with the recovery effort. Venezuela, Chile, Colombia, Perú, México, the United States, Cuba, Bolivia, Switzerland and Spain have all contributed people and money to the cause, Correa said.
Meanwhile, some government agencies are already focusing on the reconstruction process, saying that new, stricter building standards must be followed once work begins.