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Powerful Earthquake Hits Ecuador's Coast, Killing At Least 262

By Merrit Kennedy | NPR
Monday, April 18, 2016

Updated 1:52 a.m. ET Monday:

The death toll from Saturday's earthquake has risen to 262. The new number was given to reporters Sunday night. President Rafael Correa, who cut short a trip to Rome to return to Ecuador, said he expects the death toll to rise. Government officials say there are many people who are still missing.

Original Post:

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador's central coast Saturday evening, killing hundreds and devastating entire regions of the country.

Reuters reports that the death toll from the quake currently stands at 246 people, with more than 2,500 injured.

"The immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble," Rafael Correa, Ecuador's president, said on Twitter.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the quake at 6:58 p.m. local time (7:58 p.m. ET), centered 16 miles southeast of Muisne, a sparsely-populated coastal town.

Ecuador has a history of massive temblors, including seven with a magnitude of seven or greater within 155 miles of this quake since 1900. But as The New York Times reports, "the one on Saturday, which by some accounts lasted more than a minute, was believed to be one of the most powerful since the 1970s."

Correa "decreed a national emergency," which "gives the government expanded authority and a state of emergency in six of the country's 24 provinces," according to the Times.

"Pedernales is destroyed," Correa added in a post on Twitter, referring to one of the worst-hit areas of the country. Reuters describes the region as a "rustic tourist spot with beaches and palm trees."

"There are villages totally devastated," Pedernales' mayor Gabriel Alcivar told a local radio station, the wire service reported. "What happened here in Pedernales is catastrophic."

Alcivar told the BBC that "looting had broken out" in the area.

Meanwhile, rescue workers are trying to find survivors in the rubble. The BBC reports that "helicopters and buses are ferrying troops north but have been hampered by landslides." It adds that in some areas, "people are using their bare hands to try to dig out survivors."

"About 13,500 security force personnel were mobilized to keep order around Ecuador," Reuters reports.

The quake rattled buildings and caused homes to collapse as far away as Ecuador's capital of Quito, 105 miles (170 km) from the quake's epicenter. Quito residents rushed to the streets in fear, according The Associated Press.

"I'm in a state of panic," Quito resident Zoila Villena told the AP. "My building moved a lot and things fell to the floor. Lots of neighbors were screaming and kids crying."

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a statement saying the "tsunami threat from this earthquake has now mostly passed."

The quake follows two major earthquakes on the other side of the so-called Ring of Fire. They hit southwest Japan on Thursday and Saturday, killing at least 42 people.

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