Ecuadorians started burying loved ones who died in the country’s worst earthquake for decades as hopes faded that more survivors will be found.
In the small town of Montecristi, near the city of Manta, two children were among those buried on Tuesday. They were killed with their mother while buying school supplies when the magnitude-7.8 quake struck on Saturday night.
Family members wailed loudly and one man fainted as the children were laid to rest in an above-ground vault.
The scenes of mourning were replicated along the normally placid Pacific coastline, where towns were flattened and hundreds killed.
Funeral homes were running out of coffins for the dead, and local governments were paying to bring them in from other cities.
The government put the death toll at 507 late on Tuesday, of whom 499 have been identified, according to the Attorney General’s office.
Yet, officials expected more bodies to be found, with the Defence Ministry reporting that 231 people were still missing.
The final toll could surpass those from earthquakes in Chile and Peru in the past decade. Even as grief mounted, there were glimmers of hope.
Even as grief mounted, there were glimmers of hope.
In several cities on Tuesday rescuers with sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks and special probes that can detect distant breathing continued to search for survivors under the rubble. At least six people were found in Manta.
One of the most hopeful stories was that of Pablo Cordova, who held out for 36 hours beneath the ruins of the hotel where he worked in Portoviejo, drinking his own urine and praying that mobile service would be restored before his phone battery died.
He was finally able to call his wife on Monday afternoon and was pulled from the wreckage soon after by a team of rescuers from Colombia
Cordova’s wife had given up on ever seeing him again and managed to buy a casket.
“They were organising the funeral, but I’ve been reborn,” Cordova said Tuesday. “I will have to give that coffin back because I still have a long way to go before I die.”
Rescuers who have arrived from Mexico, Colombia, Spain and other nations said they would keep searching for survivors on Wednesday, but cautioned that time was running out and the likelihood of finding more people alive grew smaller as time passed.
Even as authorities begin to shift their attention to restoring electricity and clearing debris, the earth continued to move. Late on Tuesday afternoon, a magnitude-5.5 tremor rattled buildings in the region.
It was the second strongest of more than 400 aftershocks since the weekend quake and was felt 170kms away in the capital, Quito.
Saturday’s earthquake destroyed or damaged about 1,500 buildings, triggered mudslides and left some 20,000 people homeless, the government said. It was the worst quake in Ecuador since one in 1949 killed more than 5,000 people.
Some 13 nations are involved in the relief effort. Cuba sent doctors, Venezuela has flown in food and the US government said that it was sending a team of disaster experts as well $100,000 in assistance.
The UN World Food Programme sent a convoy with enough food to feed 8,000 people for 15 days.
President Rafael Correa has spent the past days overseeing relief efforts and delivering supplies. He said the quake caused $3bn worth of damage, about 3 percent of gross domestic product, and that rebuilding would take years.
“It’s going to be a long battle,” he said.[Source: AP]