Thursday, April 21, 2016

Aftershocks continue to spark fear in Ecuador as death toll rises

Nervousness and fear in Ecuador persists after new aftershocks jolted the South American country's north coast early Wednesday morning, the same area devastated by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on Saturday.

Wednesday's aftershocks also caused alarm among the rescue teams working against the clock in search of survivors.

A fresh tremor of 6.1-magnitude struck off the devastated beach town of Muisne before dawn on Wednesday, which further rattled the coast region of Ecuador.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the tremor was centered offshore, 15 miles (24 km) west of Muisne, at 3:33 a.m. local time (0833 GMT).

Two minutes later, a 6.3-magnitude aftershock with a depth of 9.3 kilometers rocked Cabo San Francisco in the Muisne district in Esmeraldas which, along with Manabi, is the worst-hit province by Saturday's disaster.

These quakes felt like two successive movements in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Manabi, Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, Imbabura and in some buildings in Quito, capital of Ecuador, and Guayaquil, according to Ecuador's Geophysical Institute.

After the major earthquake on Saturday, the institute has registered 541 aftershocks.

During the coming weeks, there might be more aftershocks between magnitude 3.5 and 5.0 on the Richter scale, said the institute.

  • However, in some cases, the aftershocks could be stronger than magnitude 6.0 on the Richter scale, it warned.

  • The institute explained that aftershocks are natural phenomena in areas where the earthquake occurred. The stronger the earthquake, the longer the adjustment period, according to the Geophysical Institute.

The death toll of the killer earthquake climbed up to 553, according to the latest data from the Prosecutor's Office on Wednesday.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, who returned on Wednesday to his office after visiting the most affected areas in the eastern coastal province of Manabi over the past three days, said the casualty figures "are changing every minute," noting that there were 5,733 injured and 163 people still missing.

At a press conference in Quito, Correa praised the efforts of 1,000 national and international rescue workers.

"The success rate has been quite high, (and) 54 people have been rescued alive. This is 10 percent of the (current) death toll. It is quite an important percentage and confirms that every effort has been worth it," said Correa.

"I admire them because they are working in extreme conditions," Correa said, calling the rescue workers "heroes".

Rescue teams are using the latest technology during their searches such as a scanner that can detect heart beats up to eight meters away.

Ecuador's National Ministry for Risk Management announced in its latest report on Wednesday that 21,835 people are housed in shelters, 1,116 buildings destroyed and 146 schools affected.

Correa said that the victims of Saturday's major earthquake might spend several months in camps until the devastated areas are rebuilt.

"Let us not deceive ourselves, (and) this is not a short-term issue. This will take years and people that will have to spend various months in the camps, in tents with dormitories, kitchens, dining room and bathrooms," said Correa.

At the press conference, the president called upon the international community to donate portable bathrooms, saying efforts have now entered a new stage to provide housing and care for the victims.

The Ecuadoran government has yet to release an official figure for the total number of people affected by the earthquake in the six provinces of Manabi, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Los Rios, Santa Elena and Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas.

  • On the latest casualties, Correa said the death toll has reached 525. Yet, the prosecutor general's office later disclosed that the death toll had increased to 553.

Correa said that various crowds have gathered in parks with improvised tents and the government will start to better organize the shelters with technical support provided by international disaster specialists.

The president said that 800 tents from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have already arrived along with relief equipment from the United States.

Correa also said that he is working with experts from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to see how much money will be needed to build new urban settlements.

"This (the rebuild) could take years and cost billions (of U.S. dollars)," said the president, noting the previous estimate of 3 billion dollars was not official.
 Xinhua -

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