CANOA, Ecuador: Ecuadoreans slept outside and struggled to find food and water Friday in the wake of aftershocks that are still rocking coastal towns flattened by last weekend’s powerful earthquake.
South America’s deadliest earthquake in more than a decade destroyed virtually all of the simple one- and two-story buildings making up the beach town of Canoa last Saturday. Residents sleeping in makeshift shelters said they were praying that it didn’t rain.
A magnitude-6.0 aftershock struck off the coast late Thursday, followed by more shaking that sent people running from the structures left half-standing after the initial quake. Local television stations showed people crying in fear, and President Rafael Correa reminded residents that aftershocks were to be expected and urged them to stay calm and strong.
In Canoa, 98 percent of buildings were destroyed during the original magnitude-7.8 quake, army Col. Jose Nunez said.
The palm tree-lined beach towns along Ecuador’s coast are usually bustling with tourists who come from all over the world to take in the tropical beauty. But this week, they are filled with grim-faced residents waiting for water and food, sometimes going away empty handed after hours in the sun. Like aid workers and rescuers, residents wear masks against the dust and the stench in the air.
The death count rose to at least 602 on Friday, surpassing the dead from Peru’s 2007 earthquake and making this the deadliest quake in South America since a 1999 tremor in Colombia killed more than 1,000 people. Ecuadorean officials listed 130 people as still missing and the number of people left homeless climbed to over 25,000.
Mercedes Murillo folded clothes Thursday in a makeshift shelter on a Canoa soccer field where she is living with 50 other families.
“It’s so hard, especially with the children, with all this dust, and sleeping outside. We’re thanking God that it’s not raining,” she said as she struggled to hold back tears.
Local media reported that some tourists staying near Canoa had come to the village to help.
Rescuers continued to comb through rubble on streets that looked at if they had been bombed, but time was running out for finding survivors.
Aid workers have said there are plenty of supplies arriving from abroad. Eighty-six metric tons of relief items from UNICEF landed in Quito on Thursday night, including 10,000 fleece blankets, 300 plastic tarps, large tents and insecticide-treated nets, among other things.
But the relief workers warned of delays in water distribution and said mosquito-borne illness could spread through the camps.
Correa has said the earthquake caused $3 billion in damage and warned that the reconstruction effort will take years. His socialist administration is temporarily raising taxes to fund the recovery.
The damage has added to the already heavy economic hardships being felt in this OPEC nation because of a collapse in world oil prices. Even before the quake, Ecuador was bracing for a bout of austerity, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting the economy would shrink 4.5 percent this year.