A powerful earthquake struck southern Ecuador and northern Peru on Saturday, killing at least 15 people, trapping others under rubble and sending rescue teams into streets littered with debris and downed power lines.
The U.S. Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.8 earthquake off the Pacific coast about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city. One of the victims died in Peru, and 14 others died in Ecuador, where authorities also reported that at least 126 people were injured.
A man takes a photo of a building that collapsed after an earthquake struck Machala, Ecuador on Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Jhonny Crespo)
A policeman looks next to a car crushed by debris after an earthquake struck Cuenca, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Xavier Caivinagua)
Ecuador’s president, Guillermo Lasso, told reporters that the earthquake had “undoubtedly… caused alarm in the population.” Lasso’s office reported in a statement that 12 of the victims died in the coastal state of El Oro and two in the mountainous state of Azuay.
In Peru, the earthquake was felt from the northern border with Ecuador to the Pacific coast. Peru’s Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said a 4-year-old girl died of head trauma in the Tumbes region, on the border with Ecuador.
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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 the Secretariat of Risk Management, Ecuador’s emergency response agency.
In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under the debris. In Machala community, a two-storey house collapsed before people could evacuate, leaving a pier and the walls of a building cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.
The US Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.7 earthquake about 50 kilometers south of Guayaquil. (AP Photo/Xavier Caivinagua)
The agency said firefighters worked to rescue people while the National Police assessed the damage, but their work was made more difficult by downed telephone and electricity lines.
Machala resident Fabricio Cruz said he was in his third-floor apartment when he felt a strong tremor and saw his TV hit the floor. He immediately came out.
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“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 noticed that the roofs of the nearby houses had collapsed.
The Ecuadorian government also reported damage to health centers and schools. Lasso said he would travel to El Oro on Saturday.
The US Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.8 earthquake off the Pacific coast about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Guayaquil. (AP Photo/Jorge Sanchez)
In Guayaquil, 170 miles (270 kilometers) southwest of the capital Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and homes, as well as some collapsed walls. Authorities ordered the closure of three vehicle tunnels in Guayaquil, which anchor the metro area of more than 3 million people.
Videos shared on social media show people gathered in the streets of Guayaquil and surrounding communities. People reported falling objects inside the house.
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A video posted online showed three anchors of a show dart from the studio table when the set shook. At first they tried to shake it like a small earthquake, but soon they ran away from the camera. One anchor announced that the show would go on a commercial break, while another repeated “Oh my God, oh my God.”
Luis Tomalá was fishing with others when the earthquake happened. He said that their boat started to move “like a racehorse, we got scared, and when we turned on the radio, we heard about the earthquake.” Then his team, Tomála said, decided to stay at sea, fearing that a tsunami might develop.
Household items float in water after an earthquake struck Machala, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Erick Feijoo)
A report from Ecuador’s Event Control Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.
Peruvian authorities said the old walls of an Army barracks collapsed in Tumbes.
Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake farther north on the Pacific coast killed more than 600 people in a sparsely populated area of the country.
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Machala student Katherine Cruz said her house shook so badly she couldn’t even get up to leave her room and run outside.
“It was awesome. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life,” he said.