A mounting death toll and widespread damage is being reported following a strong earthquake centered on the northern coast of Ecuador, near Muisne. The United States Geological Survey measured the quake at 7.8 on the Richter Scale, making it the strongest earthquake in Ecuador in more than 100 years. The quake struck at 6:58 p.m. Saturday night.
More than 60 strong aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from 4.5 to 5.6, had been recorded by 6 a.m. Sunday morning. The coast near the city of Bahia de Caraquez has received six of them and there are reports of heavy damage. Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute has issued a statement that more aftershocks should be expected.
The 7.8 earthquake was felt throughout Ecuador, as well as in southern Colombia and northern Peru.
Vice President Jorge Glas said early Sunday that 77 deaths have been confirmed so far but that he expects the number to rise dramatically. Seven hundred injuries have been reported.
According to local authorities, hundreds of structures have collapsed from Manta to Esmeradas and others, including newer high-rise condominiums, have suffered structural damage. Glas said it could be days before we know the full extent of damage and how much it will cost to repair.
Electricity and phone services are out in much of the affected area, including in Manta, Esmeraldas and Santo Domingo. In all three communities, thousands slept in the street Saturday night, either unable or afraid to return to their homes. Residents said the quake lasted four to five minutes in Esmeraldas.
In Guayaquil, an overpass near the airport collapsed, killing at least one motorist. A child died in a shopping mall when a pillar fell on her. Mayor Jaime Nebot says that several buildings have fallen and many others are severely damaged.
In Cuenca, a tweet from the city’s fire department said it had received no reports of serious damage. Expats living in mid- and high-rise condos reported strong shaking that lasted for almost a minute. Hundreds of residents of the city’s historic district stood in the street immediately after the earthquake. Meanwhile, a parade and fireworks display continued as scheduled.
Quito felt stronger shocks than Cuenca and items were knocked from store shelves and some houses suffered damage.
President Rafael Correa said that hundreds of millions of dollars in credit has been released to help with recovery and rebuilding. Offers of aid have been received from Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Peru, he said.