At least 12 killed after powerful earthquake rocks Ecuador

A strong earthquake shook southern Ecuador and northern Peru on Saturday, killing at least a dozen people, trapping others under rubble and sending rescue teams out into streets littered with debris and fallen power lines.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported an earthquake with a magnitude of about 6.8 that was centred just off the Pacific Coast, about 80 kilometres south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso told reporters the earthquake that killed 12 people had “without a doubt … generated alarm in the population.” In a Twitter post, he also asked people to remain calm.

Risk Management Secretary Cristian Torres said in a radio interview that 11 of the victims died in the coastal state of El Oro and one in the highlands state of Azuay.

The victim in Azuay’s Andean community of Cuenca was a passenger in a vehicle crushed by rubble from a house, according to the Risk Management Secretariat, the South American country’s emergency response agency.

A building is seen partially inundated in water.
The Marine Museum of Puerto Bolivar, detached from the dock, is partially submerged in water after an earthquake shook Machala, Ecuador, on Saturday. (Jorge Sanchez/The Associated Press)

In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under rubble. In the community of Machala, a two-storey home collapsed before people could evacuate, a pier gave way and a building’s walls cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.

The agency said firefighters worked to rescue people while Ecuador’s National Police assessed damage, their work made more difficult by downed lines that interrupted telephone and electricity service.

Machala resident Fabricio Cruz said he was in his third-floor apartment when he felt a strong tremor and saw his television hit the ground. He immediately headed outside.

“I heard how my neighbours were shouting and there was a lot of noise,” said Cruz, a 34-year-old photographer. He added that when he looked around, he noticed the collapsed roofs of nearby houses.

Police and firefighters in a crowd behind a small pile of bricks and concrete strewn across a road.
A damaged car and rubble from a house are shown in Cuenca, Ecuador, after an earthquake on Saturday. (Rafa Idrovo Espinoza/Reuters)

Lasso, the country’s president, said he would travel on Saturday to El Oro.

In Guayaquil, about 270 kilometres southwest of the capital, Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and homes, as well as some collapsed walls. Authorities ordered the closure of three vehicular tunnels in Guayaquil, which anchors a metro area of more than three million people.

Videos shared on social media show people gathered on the streets of Guayaquil and nearby communities. People reported objects falling inside their homes.

Household belongings float in water near a damaged building.
Household items float in water after Saturday’s earthquake in Machala. (Erick Feijoo/The Associated Press)

One video posted online showed three anchors of a TV show dart from their studio desk as the set shook. They initially tried to shake it off as a minor quake but soon fled off camera. One anchor indicated the show would go on a commercial break, while another repeated, “My God, my God.”

A report from Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.

The earthquake was also felt in Peru, from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. No deaths or injuries were immediately reported. In the northern region of Tumbes, the old walls of an army barracks collapsed, authorities said.

Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, a quake centred farther north on the Pacific Coast, in a more sparsely populated area of the country, killed more than 600 people.

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