Quake kills 13 in Ecuador, 1 in Peru, causes widespread damage

Magnitude 6.7 earthquake shakes coastal Guayas region, damaging homes and buildings.

A police officer looks up next to a car crushed by debris after an earthquake shook Cuenca, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023. The US Geological Survey reported an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 on Saturday about 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Police are deployed onto the streets of Cuenca, Ecuador, after a magnitude 6.7 earthquake on March 18, 2023, caused damage, including to this car hit by falling debris [Xavier Caivinagua/AP]

A strong earthquake has shaken Ecuador and Peru, killing at least 14 people, damaging homes and buildings, and sending panicked residents into the streets.

The US Geological Survey reported a magnitude 6.7 earthquake on Saturday in Ecuador’s coastal Guayas region. The tremor was centred about 80km (50 miles) south of the country’s second-biggest city, Guayaquil, which anchors a metro area of more than three million people.

The earthquake did not appear likely to generate a tsunami, authorities said.

The tremor killed 13 people in Ecuador, while at least one person was reported dead in Peru. Authorities in Ecuador also reported that at least 126 people were injured.

(Al Jazeera)

Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso told reporters the earthquake had “without a doubt … generated alarm in the population”.

His office said that “all the ministries are activated and have sufficient economic resources to immediately repair earthquake damage”. It added that 11 of the victims died in the coastal state of El Oro and two in the highlands state of Azuay.

In Peru, the earthquake was felt from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast.

Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otarola said a four-year-old girl died from head trauma she suffered in the collapse of her home in the Tumbes region, on the border with Ecuador.

The initial earthquake was followed by two weaker aftershocks in the following hour, according to the Geophysics Institute of Ecuador.

“We all ran out into the streets … we were very scared,” Ernesto Alvarado, a resident of Isla Puna near the epicentre, told the Reuters news agency, adding that some homes had collapsed.

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

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

The agency said firefighters worked to rescue people while the National Police assessed damage, their work made more difficult by downed lines that interrupted telephone and electricity service.

Residents look at a building that collapsed after an earthquake shook Machala, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023.
Residents look at a building that collapsed after an earthquake shook Machala, Ecuador [Jhonny Crespo/AP Photo]

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 headed out.

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

Ecuador’s government also reported damage to healthcare centres and schools. Lasso said he would travel on Saturday to El Oro.

In Guayaquil, about 270km (170 miles) southwest of the capital, Quito, authorities reported cracks in houses and other buildings as well as some collapsed walls.

Authorities ordered the closure of three road tunnels.

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

One video posted online showed three television show presenters darting from their studio desk as the set shook.

They initially tried to shake it off as a minor quake but soon fled off-camera. One presenter indicated the show would go on a commercial break while another repeated, “My God. My God.”

Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, a quake centred farther north on the Pacific Coast in a more sparsely populated area of the country killed more than 600 people.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies