A powerful earthquake hit southern Ecuador and northern Peru on Saturday, killing at least 15 people, leaving others trapped in rubble and sending rescue teams into rubble-strewn streets and downed power lines.
The US Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.8 earthquake centered just off the Pacific coast, about 80 km south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city. One person died in Peru and 14 died in Ecuador, where authorities also reported at least 126 injuries.
Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, told reporters that the earthquake, which killed 15 people, had “undoubtedly … caused alarm among the population.” In a Twitter post, he also asked people to remain calm.
In Peru, the earthquake was felt from the northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otarola said the four-year-old girl died of head injuries she suffered when her house collapsed in the Tumbes region on the border with Ecuador.
According to the Secretariat of Risk Management, Ecuador’s emergency response agency, one of the victims in the Ecuadorian city of Azuay was a passenger in a car that was hit by debris from a house in the Andean community of Cuenca.
In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people remained under the rubble. A two-storey house in Machala community collapsed before people could evacuate, a pier gave way and the walls of the building cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.
The agency said firefighters worked to rescue people while Ecuador’s national police assessed the damage, hampered by downed power lines that knocked out telephone and electricity service.
Machala resident Fabricio Cruz said he was in his third-floor apartment when he felt a strong shock and saw his television set hit the ground. He immediately came out.
“I heard my neighbors shouting and there was a lot of noise,” said 34-year-old photographer Cruz. He added that when he looked around, he noticed the collapsed roofs of the nearby houses.
The country’s president, Lasso, said he would travel to El Oro on Saturday.
In Guayaquil, about 270 kilometers southwest of the capital Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and houses, as well as the collapse of some walls. Authorities ordered the closure of three transportation tunnels in Guayaquil, which anchors the metro area of more than three million people.
“I have never felt anything like this in my life”
Videos shared on social media showed people gathering on the streets of Guayaquil and nearby communities. People reported objects falling into their homes.
One video posted online shows the show’s three hosts jump from their studio table as the set shakes. They initially tried to shake it off as a small earthquake, but soon ran away from the camera. One host said the show was going to a commercial break, while another repeated, “Oh my God, oh my God.”
Luis Tomala was fishing with others when the earthquake struck. He said their boat started moving “like a racehorse, we got scared and when we turned on the radio we heard an earthquake”. That’s when his group decided to stay at sea, Tomala said, fearing a tsunami might develop.
A report from Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate ruled out the threat of a tsunami.
Peruvian authorities have reported that the old walls of an army barracks in Tumbes have collapsed.
The earthquake was also felt in Peru, from the northern border with Ecuador to the central coast of the Pacific Ocean. No casualties or injuries were immediately reported. In the northern region of Tumbes, the old walls of the barracks collapsed, the authorities said.
Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake centered further north on the Pacific coast, in a more sparsely populated area of the country, killed more than 600 people.
Machala student Kathryn Cruz said her house shook so hard she couldn’t even get up to leave her room and run out into the street.
“It was terrible. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life,” he said.