Ecuador is reeling from a massive earthquake that has killed at least 246 people and devastated coastal towns.
The 7.8 magnitude quake, the biggest to hit the country in decades, 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.
Reuters is reporting that rescuers are using bare hands and tractors to dig for survivors in shattered coastal towns.
President Rafael Correa rushed home from a trip to Italy to supervise the emergency and was due to address the nation on Sunday evening.
“The immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble,” he said on Twitter.
“Everything can be rebuilt but lives cannot be recovered and that’s what hurts the most,” Correa told state radio.
Vice President Jorge Glas visited the quake zone and said 246 had died and about 2,527 people were injured.
Coastal areas nearest the epicenter are worst affected, especially Pedernales, a rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees now laden with debris from pastel-colored houses.
Witnesses said dazed residents were sitting in destroyed streets, going through rubble looking for loved ones or belongings, and using makeshift coffins to bury their dead.
Authorities said there were some 163 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 struggling from low oil prices, with economic growth this year projected at near-zero.
Soldiers patrolled the streets in Pedernales, where some streets were entirely blocked off due to collapsed houses. Other homes were missing their upper stories.
Locals used a small tractor to remove rubble and also searched with their hands for people buried underneath.
Women cried after a corpse was pulled out. Inhabitants said children were trapped.
“Everything is completely destroyed,” a resident named Katrina told TV station Ecuavisa. “The majority of the buildings have fallen and there are a lot of dead.”
Many people spent the night on the streets.
Enner Munoz, 40, a teacher from Pedernales, said he was in his car when he saw wooden houses and lamp-posts collapse around him.
“It was devastating. All the roads are cracked open, there were two landslides,” he said by phone, adding that bricks had landed in the bed of his home in Pedernales.
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