ecuador, earthquake.jpg
Photograph: EPA/JOSE JACOME

The death toll from Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades rose steadily Monday as rescuers raced to find survivors amid widespread destruction along the country's north-western Pacific coast.

Ecuador's Ministry of Security said 413 people had been confirmed dead as of late Monday.

Emergency management agency SNGR said an additional 231 people were still missing and presumed to be trapped or buried under buildings that collapsed in the 7.8-magnitude quake, which struck Saturday evening near the provincial capital of Portoviejo, 170 kilometers north-west of the capital, Quito.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa called the quake the worst catastrophe the country had experienced in 67 years. After surveying the region by helicopter Monday, he described the cities of Portoviejo and Manta as very nearly "destroyed."

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

Rescuers pulled another person alive from the ruins of a hotel in Portoviejo, the security ministry said.

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

Firefighters from across Ecuador have 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. EU-coordinated disaster teams began to deploy to Ecuador early Monday, the European Commission said.

Hundreds of aftershocks, several of them magnitude 5 or greater, have rattled the country in the two days since the quake.

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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