Rescuers start search for survivors after Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades

Rescuers start search for survivors after Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades

Aid began to flow to areas devastated by Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades and the death toll continued to rise as rescue teams desperately searched rubble for survivors.

Officials said the quake killed at least 262 people and injured more than 2,500 along Ecuador's coast. Vice President Jorge Glas said the toll was likely to rise because a large number of people remained unaccounted for.

Much damage was reported in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil, which are all several hundred miles from the epicentre of the quake that struck shortly after nightfall on Saturday.

But the loss of life seemed to be far worse in isolated, smaller towns closed to the centre of the earthquake.

In Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the epicentre, soldiers put up a field hospital in a stadium where hundreds of people prepared to sleep outside for a second night. Downed power cables snaked across the streets with no prospect of electricity being restored soon, making it unsafe for many to return to their homes.

Rescuers start search for survivors after Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades

The town's mayor said looting broke out on Saturday night amid the chaos but with the arrival of 14,000 police and soldiers to towns in the quake zone the situation appeared more under control.

President Rafael Correa, who cut short a trip to Rome to oversee relief efforts, declared a national emergency and urged Ecuadoreans to stay strong.

"Everything can be rebuilt, but what can't be rebuilt are human lives, and that's the most painful," he said before departing for Manta, where he arrived just before nightfall to be briefed by aides.

More than 3,000 packages of food and nearly 8,000 sleeping kits were delivered on Sunday.

Ecuador's ally, Venezuela, and neighbouring Colombia, where the quake was also felt, organised airlifts of humanitarian aid. The European Union, Spain, Peru and Mexico also pledged aid.

Rescuers scrambled through ruins in the provincial capital Portoviejo, digging with their hands trying to find survivors.

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