Rescue crews searched desperately through rubble Monday for survivors of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador.
The death toll has soared to 413, Ecuador’s Security Minister Cesar Navas said Monday. The country’s president, Rafael Correa, also said that the death toll is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble. It’s the deadliest earthquake to hit the nation since March 1987 when a 7.8-magnitude temblor killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.
At least one of those who died was an American citizen, though State Department spokesman John Kirby has not yet identified the person. The victim’s family has been notified.
More Americans may be among those dead or injured, since the area of pristine beaches hardest hit by the quake is popular with American tourists and ex-pats.
Earlier in the evening, Vice President Jorge Glas had estimated that at least 2,527 people were injured.
The hardest-hit area was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died, said Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador’s national emergency management office. The cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Pedernales, a tourist destination, saw the most devastation but damage was widespread throughout the country.
The earthquake hit Saturday night, buckling overpasses, causing houses to collapse and knocking out power in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populous city, authorities said. People left their homes and wandered around, some sleeping in the streets. People looking for family and friends frantically dug with their hands and tools until excavation equipment arrived.
Armed forces, police deployed
In a race to help residents, Ecuador deployed 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers to the affected areas. The armed forces built mobile hospitals in Pedernales and Portoviejo and set up temporary shelters.
The military also brought in more K9 units to aid the search for survivors — and bodies.
“The lack of water and communication remains a big problem,” Peñaherrera told CNN en Español. “Many highways are in bad shape, especially in the mountainous area because it has been raining recently due to (the) El Niño weather phenomenon.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric says UNICEF has delivered 20,000 water purification tablets to Pedernales.
The governments of Colombia, Chile, Spain and Mexico are sending help for rescue efforts, Glas said. Specifically, Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long said Mexico has sent 120 helpers, Spain sent 80 rescue experts and Chile sent 49 firefighters. Missions have also arrived from Peru, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Switzerland.
A state of emergency is in effect for six provinces — Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos. Authorities urged those who left their homes in coastal areas to return after a tsunami alert was lifted.
The deadly earthquake in Ecuador follows two deadly temblors in Japan last week.
Forty-one people were killed when a magnitude-6.2 earthquake jolted the Kyushu region Thursday, followed by a magnitude-7.0 in the same area Saturday, authorities said.
Additional info by the Associated Press