Powerful aftershocks have prompted police to put up “No trespassing” signs in some neighborhoods in Manabi Province.
“With each earthquake, more houses are falling down,” said National Police captain Rafael Mate, in Bahia de Caraquez. “Yesterday, a man was in his house looking for family pictures and ten minutes after he left there was another earthquake and the house came down. It is too dangerous to let people back into the area.”
Many hard-hit towns, including Manta, Bahia de Caraquez, Portoviejo, and Pedernales in Manabi Province have been hit by hundreds of aftershocks, more than a dozen measuring magnitudes of 6.0 or higher.
On Wednesday night, army trucks offered to evacuate citizens wishing to leave Bahia de Caraquez following three 6-plus magnitude earthquakes that occurred within hours of each other. Many chose to stay near their homes, however, even if they were in ruins, for fear of theft.
Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute (GI) says that under normal circumstances each of the strong aftershocks would be the top news of the day in Ecuador. “The problem is that they follow Saturday’s 7.8 earthquake and are called aftershocks,” said GI’s Daniel Andrade. “But these are strong earthquakes and people hearing about them in other parts of the country do not realize how frightening they are.”
He pointed out that a 5.2 earthquake near Guayaquil on Friday morning that chased thousands of people into the streets, was only one-tenth as strong as many of the aftershocks felt on the north coast. The Guayaquil quake was not related to the north coast quake, he said.
Andrade said that the strong aftershocks are unusual in their strength but do not indicate a repeat of the 7.8 quake. “The aftershocks will continue for weeks, maybe months, but they should diminish in strength and number over time,” he said, adding that there have been almost 800 aftershocks in total.
The toll so far
As of Friday, the death toll from the earthquake stood at 602, with 12,492 injured, according to the National Secretariat for Risk Management. Confusion remains about the number of missing, with risk management saying it is 130 while individual communities are reporting their own numbers in the hundreds. A city councilman in Pedernales said Friday that the number of missing in his community alone stands at 234.
Almost 7,000 buildings have been destroyed, risk management says, with almost 3,000 more severely damaged and considered uninhabitable. Among the buildings destroyed are dozens of schools, health clinics and hospitals.
Fear of disease
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reports that its major concern is disease, either from unsanitary conditions or from mosquito bites.
“There are at least 20,000 people living in shelters and thousands more are sleeping outside their homes,” said PAHO’s Gina Tambini. “Volunteers are working hard to remedy sanitation problems and we are spraying against the Aedes aegypti mosquito. We are especially concerned about the spread of dengue, chikungunya and zika,” she said.