Earthquake in Ecuador kills 233, president says

Updated: 2016-04-18 02:07


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Earthquake in Ecuador kills 233, president says

Debris is pictured after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. [Photo/Agencies]

QUITO -- The strongest earthquake to jolt Ecuador in decades has killed 233 people, the country's President Rafael Correa said on Sunday, as rescuers raced to dig out survivors trapped in the rubble.

At least 233 people have been confirmed dead so far, up from an initial count of 77 dead and nearly 600 wounded, Correa wrote on Twitter while flying back from Italy to deal with the 7.8-magnitude temblor which struck off the country's Pacific coast Saturday night.

Vice President Jorge Glas was heading to Portoviejo, the hard-struck city on the Pacific coast, Correa added.

The earthquake struck at 18:58 local time (2358 GMT) with its epicenter at a depth of 10 kilometers located in northwest of Ecuador's coast.

The quake, felt around the Andean nation of 16 million people, cracked highways and collapsed buildings in a swath of western towns, causing panic as far away as in the capital city of Quito when buildings were swayed.

A state of emergency has been declared in six provinces.

There were deaths in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil, all of which are located several hundred kilometers from the center of the quake. Pedernales, a tourist spot town of 40,000 near the quake's epicenter, were largely flattened.

The quake was the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979 and accessing the disaster zone was extremely difficult due to landslides in the hilly country.

Up to now, over 135 aftershocks, some as strong as 5.6 on the Richter scale, have been reported in the wake of Saturday's powerful quake, the country's seismological institute said.

Ecuador's Risk Management agency said 10,000 armed forces have been deployed to help and 3,700 national police and firefighters were heading to the towns of Manabi, Esmeraldas and Guayas. In addition, five shelters have been set up for evacuation.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said the tsunami threat from the quake has now mostly passed.