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Earthquake in Ecuador and Peru kills at least 14 people and wreaks havoc

A strong earthquake shook southern Ecuador and northern Peru on Saturday, killing at least 14 people, trapping others under rubble and sending rescue teams into streets littered with debris and toppled power lines.

The US Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.8 earthquake that struck just off 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 people injured.

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 highland state of Azuay.

Damage from a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in the town of Balao in Ecuador’s Azuay province on March 18, 2023.

Dario Ordonez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In Peru, the quake was felt from the northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said a 4-year-old girl died of head trauma suffered when her house collapsed in the Tumbes region, on the border with Ecuador.

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

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

The agency said firefighters worked to rescue people while national police assessed the damage, their work being complicated by downed lines that interrupted telephone and electricity service.

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

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

The government of Ecuador has also reported damage to health centers and schools. Lasso said he would travel to El Oro on Saturday.

In Guayaquil, about 170 miles southwest of the capital Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and homes, as well as some collapsed walls. Authorities have ordered the closure of three vehicular tunnels in Guayaquil, anchoring a metropolitan area of ​​more than 3 million people.

Videos shared on social media show people gathering in the streets of Guayaquil and nearby communities. People reported objects falling into their homes.

A video posted online showed three anchors of a show dart from their studio desks as the set shook. They initially tried to shrug it off as a small earthquake, but soon fled from the camera. One anchor indicated that the show would have a commercial break, while another repeated, “My God, my God.”

A report from Ecuador’s Adverse Event Monitoring Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.

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

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

In 2019, a very powerful one earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale struck southern Ecuadorclose to the country’s border with Peru.

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