ecuador, earthquake.jpg
Photograph: EPA/JOSE JACOME

The death toll from Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades has risen to 350, government officials said Monday, as the European Union offered 1 million euros (1.1 million dollars) in emergency aid.

The number of victims rose during rescue efforts in the coastal town of Pedernales, Security Minister Cesar Navas told Teleamazonas television station.

Ecuadorian authorities and the United Nations have requested EU expertise and assistance in the form of night lights and search and rescue teams, among other things.

"The EU is fully committed to supporting the international relief efforts to assist the thousands affected by the earthquake in Ecuador," the bloc's humanitarian aid commissioner, Christos Stylianides, said in a statement.

First deployments coordinated by the EU got under way early Monday, the European Commission said.

EU humanitarian experts based in Ecuador and the surrounding region are also being sent to the worst-affected areas to help with relief efforts and to survey further needs, while the EU is providing Ecuador with satellite imagery to help assess the damage.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Saturday evening some 170 kilometres north-west of the capital Quito, leaving hundreds dead, more than 2,500 people injured and causing widespread damage.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa described it as the worst catastrophe the country had experienced in 67 years.

Dozens of aftershocks, several of them magnitude 5.0 or greater, rattled the country in the hours after the quake hit.

Ecuador is located on the so-called Pacific "ring of fire" and has a history of large earthquakes. Since 1900, seven magnitude-7 or greater earthquakes have had an epicentre within 250 kilometres of the latest tremor, according to the US Geological Survey.

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