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In pictures: Ecuador races to find quake survivors

Luis Acosta, AFP | A woman searches through the rubble for her husband in Manta, Ecuador, after an earthquake struck the country on April 17, 2016.

The death toll from Ecuador’s worst earthquake in decades rose to at least 413 on Monday while traumatized survivors slept amid the rubble of their homes and rescuers dug for survivors in the Andean nation’s shattered coastal region.

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"Sadly we have to inform you that there are about 350 people killed. The number of people injured has also risen" from an earlier toll of 2,068, Security Minister Cesar Navas said on television Monday.

Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake ripped apart buildings and roads, knocked out power, and injured thousands in the largely impoverished country.

In the devastated beach town of Pedernales, shaken survivors curled up for the night on mattresses or plastic chairs next to the rubble of their homes. Soldiers and police patrolled the hot, dark streets while pockets of rescue workers ploughed on.

Late on Sunday, firefighters entered a partially destroyed house to search for three children and a man apparently trapped inside, as a crowd of 40 gathered in the darkness to watch.

“My little cousins are inside, before there were noises, screams. We must find them,” pleaded Isaac, 18, as the firemen combed the debris.

Pedernales Mayor Gabriel Alcivar estimated that there were up to 400 more dead yet to be confirmed, many buried under the rubble of collapsed hotels.

"Pedernales is devastated. Buildings have fallen down, especially hotels where there are lots of tourists staying. There are lots of dead bodies," he told local media.

Tents sprung up in the town’s still-intact stadium to store bodies, treat the injured, and distribute water, food and blankets to survivors. People wandered around with bruised limbs and bandaged cuts, while patients with more serious injuries were evacuated to hospitals.

Death toll ‘will certainly rise’

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, who cut short a visit to Italy, surveyed the damage in the coastal province of Manabi on Sunday night.

In pictures: Hunt for survivors after 7.8 magnitude quake strikes Ecuador

“Ecuador has been hit tremendously hard,” Correa said in a televised address, his voice breaking.

Correa warned that the death toll "will certainly rise and probably in a considerable way" in the hours ahead.

"There are still lots of bodies in the rubble," he said. "These are extremely difficult times, the biggest tragedy in the last 67 years."

Correa made reference to the August 1949 earthquake near the central Ecuadoran city of Ambato that killed some 5,000 people and caused widespread destruction.

While the full extent of the damage remains unclear, the disaster will likely worsen the OPEC nation’s economic performance this year.

The small, oil-dependent country has already been battered by the tumble in crude prices.

Its crucial energy industry appears largely intact after the quake, though its main refinery of Esmeraldas was closed as a precaution. However, exports of bananas, flowers, cacao and fish could be slowed by ruined roads and delays at ports.

The quake could also alter political dynamics ahead of next year’s presidential election.

After the aftershocks

About 230 aftershocks have rattled survivors who, huddled in the streets, worried the flow of tremors could topple their already cracked homes.

In the hard-hit city of Portoviejo, the stench of decaying bodies began to fill the tropical air as rescuers raced to find survivors.

“We’re scared of being in the house,” said Yamil Faran, 47, surrounded by some 30 people in the middle of a street in the city. “When this improves and the aftershocks stop we’re going to see if we can repair it.”

The destruction caused by the quake to the country’s infrastructure was further hampering rescue efforts, said FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Quito, Carolina Loza-Leon.

“A lot of the roads have been completely destroyed in the hardest hit areas,” she said. “[There is] Inadequate infrastructure to reach the people who need help the most.”

Some 130 inmates in Portoviejo took advantage of the quake’s destruction and chaos to climb over the collapsed walls of the low-security El Rodeo prison. More than 35 prisoners had been recaptured, authorities said on Sunday night.

About 13,500 security personnel were mobilised to keep order. Beyond a handful of unconfirmed reports of theft and looting, the country appeared calm.

Some $600 million in credit from multilateral lenders was immediately activated for the emergency, the government said.

Domestic aid funds were being set up and Venezuela, Chile and Mexico were sending personnel and supplies. The Ecuadorean Red Cross mobilised more than 800 volunteers and staff, and medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières said it was sending a team from Colombia.

The tremor followed two large and deadly quakes that struck Japan since Thursday.

Both countries are located on the seismically active “Ring of Fire” that circles the Pacific, but according to the US Geological Survey large quakes separated by such distances are probably not related.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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