President Rafael Correa declared a national state of emergency after Ecuador was struck by the most powerful earthquake it has seen in decades.
Preliminary reports are saying at least 77 have been killed and over 570 have been injured. Flattened buildings and collapsed highways could be seen for hundreds of miles. At least 36 aftershock quakes were reported, one reaching 6.0 on the Richter scale. A tsunami warning was issued but residents of the coastal area have since been told it is safe to return home.
The epicenter of the 7.8-earthquake was located in a sparsely populated fishing and tourist area near the shoreline, but there were casualties in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil, all of which were hundreds of miles from the epicenter. Residents of Quito, the nations capital, were thrown into a state of panic as several neighborhoods lost power and buildings collapsed. Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the quake’s center, was devastated.
“This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town,” said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales. “We’re trying to do the most we can, but there’s almost nothing we can do.” Looting broke out in the wake of the catastrophe but authorities were too preoccupied with rescue efforts to enforce law and order.
According to Vice President Jorge Glas, 10,000 armed forces had been deployed stabilize the situation. In addition, 4,600 national police were dispatched to the towns of Manabi, Esmeraldas and Guayas y Santa Elena. President Correa called upon citizens to remain calm as he rushed back from a visit to Rome.