(SOURCE) Ecuador was in a state of emergency Sunday after a powerful earthquake flattened buildings and ravaged towns along the nation’s northwestern coast Saturday night.
At least 77 people were killed nearly 600 more were wounded, Vice President Jorge Glas said, after the magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck just before 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET).
President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency, and said the tremblor was the strongest quake to hit Ecuador since 1979.
“Our infinite love to the families of the dead,” Correa said on Twitter, while cutting short a trip to Italy to return home.
States of emergency were declared for the provinces of Esmeraldas, Los Rios, Manabi, Santa Elena, Guayas and Santo Domingo. The quake was strongly felt in country’s capital of Quito, around 100 miles away.
Glas said 10,000 military troops and 3,500 police have been dispatched to the affected areas. Meanwhile, the Home Ministry said five helicopters and over 80 buses were ferrying 4,000 police to the quake zone.
Authorities said landslides were making it difficult for emergency workers to reach the towns hardest hit by the earthquake.
“We’re trying to do the most we can, but there’s almost nothing we can do,” said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the quake’s epicenter, according to the Associated Press.
Alcivar pleaded for authorities to send earth-moving machines and emergency rescue workers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, trapping residents among the rubble. He said looting had broken out amid the chaos but authorities were too busy trying to save lives to re-establish order.
“This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town,” he said.