Earthquake in Ecuador and Peru kills at least 14, causes widespread damage

A powerful earthquake rocked southern Ecuador and northern Peru on Saturday, killing at least 14 people, burying others under debris, and sending rescue teams into streets littered with debris and downed power lines.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.8 earthquake centered on the Pacific coast, about 50 miles south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city. One of the victims died in Peru, while 13 others died in Ecuador, where authorities also reported at least 126 injuries.

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso told reporters that the earthquake “undoubtedly … caused alarm among the population.” Lasso’s office said in a statement that 11 of the victims died in the coastal state of El Oro and two in the highlands state of Azuay.

Damage caused by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in the town of Balao in Azuay Province, Ecuador on March 18, 2023.

Dario Ordonez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Earthquake tremors were felt in Peru from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. A 4-year-old girl died of head trauma after her house collapsed in the Tumbes region on the border with Ecuador, Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otrola said.

One of the victims in Azuay was a passenger in a vehicle that was crushed by debris from a house in the Andean community of Cuenca, according to Ecuador’s emergency response agency, the Risk Management Secretariat.

In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under the debris. In the community of Machala, a two-storey house collapsed before people could evacuate, a pier gave way and the walls of the building cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.

Firefighters worked to rescue people while national police assessed the damage, their work made more difficult by downed power lines that disrupted telephone and power service, the agency said.

Machala resident Fabricio Cruz said he was in his third-floor apartment when he felt the strong earthquake and saw his television hit the ground. He went out immediately.

Cruz, a 34-year-old photographer, said: “I heard how my neighbors were screaming and there was a lot of noise. He added that when he looked around, he saw the roofs of nearby houses collapsing.

The Ecuadorian government also reported damage to health care centers and schools. Lasso said he will travel to El Oro on Saturday.

In Guayaquil, about 170 miles southwest of the capital Quito, officials reported cracks in buildings and homes, and some walls collapsed. Authorities ordered the closure of three vehicular tunnels in Guayaquil, which anchors the metro area of ​​more than 3 million people.

Videos shared on social media showed people gathering on the streets of Guayaquil and surrounding communities. People reported objects falling inside their homes.

A video posted online showed the show’s three anchors darting from their studio desks when the set shook. Initially they tried to shake it off as a minor earthquake but soon ran away from the camera. One anchor signaled for the show to go to a commercial break, while another repeated, “My God, my God.”

A report by Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate dismissed the threat of a tsunami.

Peruvian officials said the old walls of an army barracks in Tumbes collapsed.

Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake struck a sparsely populated area of ​​the country north of the Pacific coast, killing more than 600 people.

In 2019, a very powerful A magnitude 7.5 earthquake hit southern Ecuadornear the country’s border with Peru.

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