RACING THE CLOCK — Workers organize a search for victims in Portoviejo, Ecuador.

Saturday earthquake kills 350 in Ecuador

On Saturday, April 16, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Ecuador, killing at least 350 people and injuring over 2,500. Death and injury tolls are expected to rise as rescue efforts continue. Saturday’s quake was the strongest to hit the country since 1979, bringing down over 250 structures. These included overpasses, an air traffic control tower and even houses hundreds of kilometers away from the epicenter, due to poor construction practices.

“Everybody in my neighborhood was screaming, saying it was going to be the end of the world,” Jose Meregildo, a survivor in Guayaquil, Ecuador said.

The six coastal provinces of Ecuador—Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos—are all in states of emergency. The government deployed 10,000 troops to assist civilians and restore order.

President Rafael Correa said, “The pain is immense, but the spirit of the Ecuadorian people is greater. We will move forward from this.”

A member of Ecuador’s national emergency management office, Ricardo Peñaherrera commented on the current status of contacting affected areas.

“Many highways are in bad shape, especially in the mountainous area because it has been raining recently due to the El Niño weather phenomenon,” Peñaherrera said.

In light of a lack of communication due to power outages and downed internet capabilities, rescue attempts have been trying to work as efficiently as possible.

“We’re finding signs of life in the rubble. We’re giving this priority. After, we’ll work to find and recover bodies,” President Correa said.

In general, there is approximately a 72-hour window following a quake that those trapped under rubble will be able to survive. Because of the high-risk situation, Manuel Quijije of Portoviejo feels desperate and helpless trying to rescue his brother, Junior, and two other relatives trapped beneath rubble.

“For God’s sake help me find my family,” Quijije said. “We managed to see his arms and legs. They’re his, they’re buried, but the police kicked us out because they say there’s a risk that the rest of the building will collapse. We’re not afraid. We’re desperate. We want to pull out our family.”

Many people in the heavily damaged cities of Manta, Portoviejo, and Pedernales are still trapped under rubble. Mayor Gabriel Alcivar commented on the widespread destruction.

“Pedernales is devastated,” Alcivar said. “Every building of two stories or more has been destroyed.”

The earthquake is believed to have resulted from a thrust fault, in which one tectonic plate slides adjacent to another in the vertical direction, at the Nazca and Pacific plate boundary. Because the quake was relatively shallow, numerous aftershocks are expected over the following weeks.

By Sunday night, 230 aftershocks had been recorded by Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute.

On the other side of the Pacific, Japan was struck by a 6.2 magnitude shallow earthquake two days before Ecuador was hit. Currently, it is unknown if the occurrences are connected, but distant quakes, such as those in Japan and Ecuador, are normally thought of as independent events. However, geophysicist Paul Caruso of the US Geological Survey noted that the possibility of “remote triggering” is being researched and investigated.

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