Major Tourist Centers Largely Untouched In Devastating Ecuador Earthquake
Hopes dwindled of finding more survivors in the rubble three days after a powerful earthquake rocked Ecuador’s Pacific Coast region killing more than 400 people and flattening homes and buildings in dozens of towns and villages.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake, the strongest to hit the Andean nation in decades, was centered in the coastal province of Esmeraldas but was felt throughout the country. Authorities have reported hundreds of aftershocks since the initial temblor late Saturday night.
Among the hardest-hit towns was the port city of Manta north of Guayaquil, where Wednesday morning rescuers were still searching for survivors. Some 50 rescuers working with sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks, and a drill had managed to free eight people trapped for more than 32 hours in the rubble of a shopping center but were still combing through dozens of other locales.
More than 100 people have been reported dead and nearly 400 buildings destroyed in the town of Portoviejo, another of the hardest-hit areas. “It looks like a war zone,” resident Viviana Baquezea told The New York Times. “It’s incredible what has happened to us—that our city is destroyed, and we’re experiencing such anguish and pain.”
Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism said Tuesday that major tourist centers such as Quito and Cuenca in the highlands were largely unaffected by the quake and all airports in the region remain open. Cuenca is home to hundreds of foreign expats who have moved to Ecuador in recent years in search of a more affordable and interesting lifestyle.
According to Cuenca High Life, an online newsletter for foreigners in the city, there have been no reported injuries there and damage in the Azuay Province was limited to a few cracked walls.
The government reported late Tuesday that the official death count had increased to 413 and said they expected the toll to rise further in the days ahead. Among the dead were an American, two Canadians, and a nun from Northern Ireland.
Complicating rescue efforts is the lack of electricity in many areas, where noisy generators used to power searchlights are making it harder to hear anyone who might be trapped in the debris. The head of Quito’s emergency services, Christian Rivera, told the Associated Press that people without serious injuries can survive for up to a week in some cases, but “after that, there’s a quick decline… and the rescuers’ work becomes very difficult,” he said.
Ecuador’s leftist president, Rafael Correa, declared a state of emergency and deployed some 3,500 troops and 450 National Guard to the affected areas. In a televised address, he urged the country to remain united and steel themselves for a long rebuilding process that could cost billions of dollars.
“The priority is to direct resources where there are signs of life,” Correa said.
Hundreds of rescue workers from Spain, Peru, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and elsewhere are working in the areas with the most damage. The United States has also offered assistance but so far Correa, a strong critic of the United States, has not responded to the offer.