A powerful, 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit at Ecuador’s central coast on Saturdaythat killed at least 77 people, which spread panic amongst hundreds of miles as it collapsed homes and buckled a major overpass for citizens. Almost 500-600 people were injured. Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas said that they will announce new casualty figures by early Sunday on the Security Ministry’s Twitter account. The U.S. Geological Survey said the shallow quake, the strongest since 1979 to hit Ecuador, was centered 16 miles south-southeast of Muisne, a sparsely populated area of fishing ports that’s popular with tourists. Glas said in an earlier televised address that there were initial reports of dozens dead in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil — all several hundred miles from where the quake struck shortly after nightfall. He said the death toll was likely to rise as reports from the worst-hit areas come in. He pleaded for rescuers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, people were trapped and looting broke out amid the chaos. “This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town.”
Those killed was the driver of a car crushed by the overpass that had buckled in Guayaquil, country’s most populous city. On social media residents shared photos of homes collapsed, the roof of a shopping centre coming apart and supermarket shelves shaking violently. In Manta, the airport was closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air force official. Hydroelectric dams and oil pipelines in the OPEC-member nation were shut down as a precautionary measure. President Rafael Correa, who is in Rome after attending a Vatican conference Friday, called on Ecuadoreans to stay strong while authorities monitor events. He said on Twitter that he had signed a decree declaring a national emergency but that the earliest he could get back to Ecuador is Sunday afternoon. He said that there were “dozens of dead” from the earthquake. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said hazardous tsunami waves are quite possible at some coasts. While the government hadn’t issued any tsunami alerts of now, Glas urged residents along the coast to move to a higher ground and towns near the epicentre were also being evacuated as a precautionary measure taken by the centre. An emergency had been declared in six of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, while sporting events and concerts were cancelled until further notice nationwide. “It’s very important that Ecuadoreans remain calm during this emergency,” Glas said from Ecuador’s national crisis room. The USGS originally put the quake at a magnitude of 7.4 then raised it to 7.8. It had a depth of 19 kilometres. Guayaquil’s international airport was also closed because of a lack of communications. The quake comes on the heels of two deadly earthquakes across the Pacific, in the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands. A magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck Thursday near Kumamoto, followed by a magnitude-7.3 earthquake just 28 hours later. The quakes have killed at least 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattened houses and have triggered major landslides.