At least 350 dead, cities "destroyed" in Ecuador quake

The death toll from Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades has risen to 350, government officials said Monday, as rescuers raced to find survivors amid widespread destruction along the country's north-western Pacific coast.

After a helicopter flight to survey the damage, Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa told journalists the cities of Portoviejo and Manta, near the quake's epicentre, were "extremely destroyed."

Military units, police, firefighters and volunteers continued to dig through the ruins searching for signs of life.

In Manta, a city of 200,000, four people were rescued after surviving 30 hours trapped in the rubble of a building destroyed by the earthquake Saturday evening, Mayor Jorge Zambrano said.

Firefighters from across the country had joined the rescue efforts, as well as more than 450 international disaster specialists from across Latin America as well as Switzerland and Spain.

The European Union offered 1 million euros (1.1 million dollars) in emergency aid. Ecuadorian authorities and the United Nations have requested EU expertise and assistance including lights and search and rescue teams.

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

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 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.

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

Dozens of aftershocks, several of them magnitude 5 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.

Last update: Mon, 18/04/2016 - 21:04

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