Earthquake kills 246 in Ecuador; people still trapped
The death toll from Ecuador's biggest earthquake in decades soared to at least 246 on Sunday as rescuers using tractors and bare hands hunted desperately for survivors in shattered coastal towns, Reuters reported.
The 7.8 magnitude quake 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 and collapsing buildings and roads in a swath of western 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 were worst affected, especially Pedernales, a rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees now laden with debris from pastel-colored houses.
Reuters witnesses said dazed residents were sitting in destroyed streets, going through rubble looking for loved ones or belongings, and using makeshift funeral 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 reeling from low oil prices, with economic growth this year projected at near-zero. It has also propelled Glas - a possible candidate in Ecuador's February 2017 presidential election - into the limelight.