Ecuador Quake Toll Rises as World Leaders Offer Support

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A man evacuates his belongings in Manta, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016.

Photographer: LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
  • Government raises number of dead to 350, more than 2,500 hurt
  • PetroEcuador says it will resume transporting fuel, crude oil

World leaders from the Vatican to Washington offered support to Ecuador as casualties mounted following one of the strongest earthquakes to strike the South American country in decades.

The number of dead has climbed to at least 350 from 272 last night, Security Minister Cesar Navas told local television station Teleamazonas Monday. At least 2,527 were injured, the government said yesterday. President Rafael Correa flew to the epicenter in Manabi province Sunday after cutting short a trip to the Vatican in the aftermath of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

“Ecuador has been hit tremendously,” Correa said last night in a televised broadcast, calling the quake Ecuador’s worst tragedy in almost seven decades. “Even though the pain is immense, our peoples’ spirit is even greater.”

The nation’s geophysical institute said the quake was centered near the coastal town of Pedernales in Manabi province, about 170 kilometers (106 miles) west-northwest of the capital, Quito. The institute reported “considerable damage” and said more than 230 aftershocks, one measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale, had followed.

Searching the Rubble

During the earthquake, houses shook and power went off briefly around the country. Coastal towns nearer the epicenter were devastated, the government said, with victims still being pulled from collapsed buildings as of Monday. Roads and bridges were also affected, complicating access to the hardest-hit areas.

Vice President Jorge Glas spent Sunday night in Pedernales working with security, health and rescue teams. The government has deployed 10,000 troops to the region and the nation’s risk management agency said that 10,000 bottles of water would be shipped to some of the affected areas in the Manabi province, along with sleeping kits and food. Thousands are helping to collect donations of clothing, blankets and food for the hardest-hit areas.

“We stand by the people of Ecuador in this difficult time and are ready to assist in any way we can,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in an e-mail.

State oil company PetroEcuador said Sunday that it was slowly restarting operations at its refineries and oil pipeline after making initial safety inspections. While the La Libertad and Shushufindi refineries were working normally, installations in the Esmeraldas refinery, located near the disaster zone, were still being evaluated.

Economic Backdrop

Potentially complicating the nation’s economic recovery, crude prices tumbled by the most in two months after talks in Doha among major global producers to freeze output ended without an agreement.

Ecuador, an OPEC member, produced 547,000 barrels of crude per day in March, according to data from the Vienna-based organization. The International Monetary Fund, which earlier Sunday said it stands ready to help Ecuador as needed, expects the economy to contract 4.5 percent this year.

Reconstruction efforts will probably be hampered by the government’s lack of reserves, which could deepen this year’s economic contraction, said Edward Glossop, an economist at Capital Economics in London. Ecuador’s Finance Ministry has $300 million in emergency funds and will also use contingent financing to help pay for reconstruction, Vice President Glas said Sunday. 

While it’s too soon to put a figure on damages, losses may vary between 15 percent and 30 percent of gross domestic product, based on estimates of damages in the 2010 earthquakes in regional neighbors Haiti and Chile, Glossop said. The disaster in Chile cost about $30 billion while Haiti spent $14 billion to rebuild, he said.

“The government is basically short of cash, so any fiscal effort to rebuild will be severely hampered,” Glossop said by telephone Monday from London. “It just means that they need even more funds than they previously did -- it’s relatively bleak.”

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