Ecuador quake deaths pass 500 with hundreds still missing

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A Ecuadorian family sleeps outside following a powerful earthquakeImage source, AP
Image caption,
Thousands have been forced to sleep outside since the earthquake

The death toll from Saturday's devastating earthquake in Ecuador has risen to 570 and could increase by many more, authorities in the country say.

Figures given by officials for the number of people missing ranged from 231 to 1,700.

Thousands of people have been left homeless, making them vulnerable to dirty drinking water and disease.

Meanwhile a new 6.2 magnitude quake struck off the Ecuadorean coast, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The quake was centred 70km (44 miles) west of Esmeraldas at a shallow depth of 10km.

More than 4,000 people have been injured in the disaster, officials said,

The World Food Programme and Oxfam are sending supplies, while the UN said it was preparing a "major airlift".

Deputy Interior Minister Diego Fuentes said 2,000 people had been reported missing since the quake struck. He said that 300 had been located since.

Ecuador's Defence Minister Ricardo Patino later said that 231 people were still missing.

Hopes wane

The cost of rebuilding could be up to $3bn (£2.1bn), President Rafael Correa said during a visit to the worst-affected region.

Sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers were being used to search for survivors in areas and the smell of rotting bodies was filling the air, witnesses said.

Some people have been pulled out of the rubble alive but, despite the efforts of emergency teams, hope is fading that others will be found.

From Tuesday, rescue efforts would become more of a hunt for corpses, Ecuador's Interior Minister Jose Serrano told Reuters.

Foreign nationals from the UK, Ireland, Canada, Colombia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic have been confirmed among the dead.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Search efforts continue but hopes of finding survivors are fading
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The earthquake shattered vital infrastructure

Focus is turning to the survivors. The quake damaged communications, transport links and sanitation, hampering relief efforts.

Unicef has warned that 150,000 children have been affected by the disaster and said landslides were complicating rescue efforts in some areas, and some towns were without electricity.

The Spanish Red Cross estimated that up to 100,000 people would need assistance.

Major international and aid organisations are sending help:

  • The WFP is sending enough food to feed 8,000 of the most severely affected people
  • The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it would send shelter and mosquito nets in an airlift due within 48 hours
  • Oxfam said its first shipment of material providing safe drinking water would be sent on Wednesday
  • Save the Children said it was working "around the clock" and trying to ensure children can continue their education despite the damage

Reconstruction costs are likely to be huge at a time when the oil-producing country is already reeling from the slump in global crude prices.

Funerals for some of those killed have been held in Portoviejo and Pedernales, two towns that were the worst hit.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck at a fairly shallow depth of 19.2km (11.9 miles), about 27km from Muisne in a sparsely populated area.

Scientists say there is no connection between the quake in Ecuador and a severe tremor in southern Japan, which also occurred on Saturday.