Powerful 7.8 earthquake rocks Ecuador, killing at least 41

By AFP, Reuters   April 16, 2016 | 06:31 pm PT
Powerful 7.8 earthquake rocks Ecuador, killing at least 41
Rescue team members wait outside a clinic that was evacuated after tremors were felt resulting from an earthquake in Ecuador, in Cali, Colombia, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga
Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades, a 7.8 magnitude tremor, struck off the Pacific coast on Saturday, killing at least 41 people and causing damage near the epicenter as well as in the largest city of Guayaquil.

President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency and urged the Andean nation's 16 million people to stay calm.

"Our infinite love to the families of the dead," he said on Twitter, while cutting short a trip to Italy to return home.

Authorities urged people to evacuate coastal areas for fear of rising tides. Alarmed residents streamed into the streets of the highland capital Quito, hundreds of kilometers (miles) away, and other towns across the nation.
The Andean nation's government recommended residents leave coastal areas over concern for rising tides following the quake.

Alarmed residents streamed into the streets of the capital Quito, hundreds of kilometers (miles) away, and other towns across the nation.

"There is considerable (structural) damage in the area near the epicenter as well as points as far away as Guayaquil," the Geophysical Office (IG) said.

President Rafael Correa, on a visit to the Vatican, sent a message of support on Twitter. "Authorities are already out evaluating damage and taking action" as needed," he said.

Vice President Jorge Glas also said on Twitter that a national emergency committee had been activated. "I am on the way to the national emergency center to coordinate operations nationwide. We will keep you informed," he said.

With a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles), the quake struck at 2358 GMT about 173 km west-northwest of Quito and just 28 kilometers south-southeast of Muisne, the US Geological Survey said.

A tsunami warning was issued for local coasts. "Based on the preliminary earthquake parameters, hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 300 kilometers of the earthquake epicenter," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Buildings swayed in Quito but authorities did not immediately report injuries or damage. The strong movement was felt in northern and southern parts of the metro Quito area, knocking out electricity in many areas.

Cristina Duran, 45, grabbed her three pets and stood under a large doorway to avoid shards of glass falling from shattered windows. "I was frightened. And I just kept asking for it to be over," she told AFP.

Panic on the streets 

Aftershocks kept rattling the country, as structural damage was reported in the coastal provinces of Manabi and Guayas. At the airport in the port city of Guayaquil passengers awaiting flights dashed out of terminals when they felt the shaking.

"Lights fell down from the ceiling. People were running around in shock," said Luis Quimis, 30, who was waiting to catch a flight to Quito.

In northern Quito, people ran out of their homes frightened, as power lines swayed back and forth and cables danced.

"Oh, my God, it was the biggest and strongest earthquake I have felt in my whole life. It lasted a long time, and I was feeling dizzy. I couldn't walk. ... I wanted to run out into the street, but I couldn't," said Maria Torres, 60.

In fact, two earthquakes jolted the same area just 11 minutes apart, the USGS said. The first had a magnitude of 4.8 and the second of 7.8. 

The quake also rattled northern Peru, according to authorities there.

The major jolt came as rescuers in Japan were racing against the weather and the threat of more landslides to reach people still trapped by two big earthquakes that hit that country's south.

At last 41 people are known to have died in the double disaster, with at least six still missing -- feared buried in shattered houses or under torrents of mud.

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