The death toll from the earthquake in Ecuador has risen to 235, President Rafael Correa has confirmed.
Initial tallies given by the government suggested around 600 people were injured. Authorities later revised that number up to more than 1,500.
The magnitude 7.8 ‘quake was felt around the nation when it struck off the Pacific Coast late on Saturday (April 16).
Ecuador’s biggest earthquake in decades has ravaged coastal populations leaving an unknown number of people trapped in the rubble. Rescue workers could be seen using anything from tractors to their bare hands to hunt for survivors.
“The immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble,” Correa tweeted as he rushed back from a trip to Italy.
Rescue operations are ongoing.
“There are people trapped in various places and we are starting rescue operations,” said Vice President Jorge Glas on Sunday morning.
Some 13,500 security force staff have been deployed to help keep order around the country. The government said 600 million dollars in credit from multilateral lenders had been immediately activated.
Mexico and Venezuela have offered aid, the government said. Both countries are said to be sending personnel and supplies.
Pedernales has been particularly badly hit. Information coming from the tourist area has been scarce due to poor communications and transport pandemonium.
“There are villages totally devastated,” Mayor Gabriel Alcivar said of the canton.
“What happened here in Pedernales is catastrophic,” he added, after confirming that “dozens and dozens” had died in the area.
There were, according to authorities, at least 135 aftershocks in the Pedernales canton.
An initial tsunami warning was later lifted, although coastal residents are being encouraged to move to higher ground in case tides rise.
‘Quake felt nationwide
Panic spread though the Andean nation, which is home to a population of around 16 million. Tremors were felt in the highland capital Quito, which lost power and phone services for several hours following the ‘quake. Buildings collapsed and roads were buckled across several western towns.
Rubble could be seen in the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, and a bridge collapsed on top of a car.
In the hours after the ‘quake hit, six provinces declared a state of emergency.
Worst ‘quake in decades
Government officials have described the disaster as the worst earthquake in Ecuador since 1979. The United States Geological Survey reports 600 people died and 20,000 were injured in the catastrophe.
Third ‘quake since Thursday
Two deadly earthquakes struck Japan on Thursday evening and Saturday morning. Both Ecuador and Japan are located on the ‘Ring of Fire’ area of seismic activity, which circles the Pacific Ocean. The US Geological Survey has said the events in the two nations are unlikely to be related.
“Even the earth’s rocky crust is not rigid enough to transfer stress efficiently over thousands of miles,” a statement on its website read.