Ecuador’s president warns earthquake death toll will rise

Rescuers search for survivors in the city of Gauyaquil. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Rescuers search for survivors in the city of Gauyaquil. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

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Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has warned that the death toll from a powerful earthquake which has killed 272 people is likely to rise.

There were desperate scenes as rescuers and family members searched for survivors, often with bare hands.

Mr Correa said there was evidence that people were still alive under the rubble of collapsed buildings.

Mr Correa visited some of the people affected by the disaster after cutting short a visit to Italy.

“I fear that figure will go up because we keep on removing rubble,” a shaken Mr Correa said in a televised address. “There are signs of life in the rubble, and that is being prioritised.”

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck on Saturday evening. Coastal areas in the north-west were closest to the epicentre.

A state of emergency has been declared and some 10,000 troops and 3,500 police have been deployed in the affected areas.

“For god’s sake help me find my family,” pleaded Manuel Quijije, 27, standing next to a wrecked building. He said his older brother, Junior, was trapped under a pile of twisted steel and concrete with two relatives.

“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 the rest of the building will collapse,” Mr Quijije said angrily as he looked on the ruins cordoned off by police. “We’re not afraid. We’re desperate. We want to pull out our family.”

In Pedernales, close to the epicentre, as many as 400 people are feared dead. Mayor Gabriel Alcivar said the “entire town” had been flattened.

“Pedernales is devastated. Buildings have fallen down, especially hotels where there are lots of tourists staying. There are lots of dead bodies,” he said.

“We’re trying to do the most we can but there’s almost nothing we can do,” he added, warning that looting had broken out.

In Portoviejo, a city of 300,000, ten miles from the coast, rescuers rushed to search the debris of flattened buildings for survivors. “We have already recovered three dead and we believe there are ten to 11 people still trapped,” a rescue worker, who was digging through the debris of a six-story hotel, said.

Four members of the same family were killed when a building collapsed on their car. The Quinde family had travelled to the city, where 17-year-old daughter Sayira was due to start university next week.

The quake cut power supplies along the coast. With too few emergency shelters, many residents have spent two nights out in the open.

In Portoviejo about 400 residents gathered at the city’s former airport to queue for water and other supplies.

The quake is Ecuador’s largest since 1979. More than 130 aftershocks have followed.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck at a fairly shallow depth of 11.9 miles.

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