Rescuers continue race to find survivors from Ecuador’s big quake

Latin America

Relatives mourn the loss of their family members, victims of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, during a funeral service in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Monday, April 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

Rescuers raced against time to find survivors from the powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake as the death toll from Ecuador’s strongest earthquake in decades has risen above 480.

Some 1,700 people are still missing three days after a big earthquake struck Ecuador, an official said Tuesday, raising fears that a death toll currently put at 480 could dramatically rise.
“We have 2,000 people listed that are being looked for, but we have so far found 300,” Deputy Interior Minister Diego Fuentes told reporters in the capital Quito.
“Right now we have 480 people who were killed and approximately 2,560 people who were injured,” he said.

On Monday, teams from Ecuador and neighboring countries fanned out across the country’s Pacific coastline to look for the dozens of people still missing.

In the port city of Manta, a group of about 50 rescuers working with sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks and a drill managed to free eight people trapped for more than 32 hours in the rubble of a shopping center that was flattened by Saturday night’s quake.

The first rescue took place before dawn, when a woman was pulled headfirst from a nearly 2½-foot (70-centimeter) hole cut through concrete and steel. Firefighters applauded as she emerged from the debris, disoriented, caked in dust and complaining of pain but otherwise in good health.

CCTV’s Dan Collyns reports from Portoviejo on the rescue effort.

Despondent and weary, rescuers pulled 19 corpses from the rubble. But even in what’s become known as Portoviejo’s ground zero, miracles can happen.

A man was pulled from the fourth floor of a collapsed hotel, passersby said he raised his arms in triumph as he was pulled from the rubble. It’s moments like that say the rescuers here that gives them hope amid the human tragedy

After 40 trapped under tons of concrete Pablo Cordova emerged alive. The hotel manager had been trapped on the fourth floor of the hotel where he worked. Cordova managed to make a cell phone call to his sister who alerted his rescuers.

Carlos Zevallos, Rescuers commanding officer said, “He managed to make contact with a family member from the place where he was trapped and said he heard people working around him. Immediately we stopped the machinery. We managed to make contact with him and we got him out conscious and talking.”

Which is why these men keep digging.

“We never stop digging because we can never rule out the hope of finding someone who’s still alive. We didn’t lose hope even though some people said that it was a long time to keep working. But God is great and that’s what gave us hope to continue until the end, “said Zevallos.

With each passing hour the chances of finding survivors is dwindling. Beneath all this devastation, more heartbreak surely awaits

“Since Saturday, when this country started shaking, I’ve slept only two hours and haven’t stopped working,” Juan Carranza, one of the firefighters leading the rescue effort in Portoviejo, said.

Despite such cheering moments, tragedy continued to mount. At the shopping center in Manta, authorities were working to free a woman they had found buried alive with a heavy concrete slab pinning her legs when an aftershock forced them to suspend the effort. When they returned the debris pile had moved and the woman was dead, said Angel Moreira, a firefighter coordinating the effort.

The government reported late Monday that the official death count had increased to 413 and said they expected the toll to rise further in the days ahead. Among the dead were an American and two Canadians.

A nun from Northern Ireland also died. Her Roman Catholic religious order, Servant sisters of the Home of the Mother, said Sister Clare Theresa Crockett was leading a group of trainee nuns to safety at a school where she worked when a stairwell collapsed. She and five of the young postulants died.

IN PHOTOS: The Ecuador Earthquake

Complicating rescue efforts is the lack of electricity in many areas, meaning noisy power generators must be used, making it harder to hear anyone who might be trapped beneath rubble.

Christian Rivera, the head of emergency services for the capital, Quito, said that depending on the circumstances a person without serious injuries can survive up to a week in such conditions.

“After that, there’s a quick decline … and the rescuers’ work becomes very difficult,” he said.

Foreign Minister Guillaume Long tweeted that 654 search experts from other nations were on the ground late Monday and that more were expected to arrive Tuesday — bringing to 13 the nationalities involved in the rescue.

The U.S. has offered assistance but so far President Rafael Correa, a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, has yet to respond publicly.

The leftist leader on Monday boarded a military helicopter to deliver water, food, and other supplies to devastated areas.

He urged Ecuadorians to remain united in what is likely to be a long rebuilding process that could cost billions of dollars. “The priority is to direct resources where there are signs of life,” Correa said.

After a deadly earthquake in Chile in 2010, that South American country was able to get back on its feet quickly thanks to a commodities boom that was energizing its economy. But Ecuador must rebuild amid a deep recession that has forced austerity on the OPEC nation’s finances. To assist in the recovery effort, Ecuador plans to draw down on some $600 million in credit lines from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and other multilateral lenders.

Manta, a thriving port city, is among the areas hit hardest by the earthquake. Power cables lie in city streets and electricity remains out in many neighborhoods. Among the many buildings flattened by the shaking was a control tower at the airport that was home to U.S. anti-narcotics missions in South America until Correa kicked the Americans out.

As humanitarian aid begun trickling in, long lines formed as people sought to buy bottled water. Many residents are sleeping outdoors in makeshift camps or in the street cuddled next to neighbors.

Spain’s Red Cross said as many as 5,000 people might need temporary housing because of destroyed homes and 100,000 need some sort of aid.