(Vatican Radio) Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is responding to a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck Ecuador Saturday causing widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure in the country’s coastal region. At least 272 people died in the destruction and 2,068 others were injured.
In a televised address to the nation, Ecuador’s visibly shaken President Rafael Correa said he feared those numbers would increase.
“Ecuador has been hit tremendously hard... This is the greatest tragedy in the last 67 years," "There are signs of life in much of the rubble and that is the priority."
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is working with local partners in Ecuador to provide assistance to those who need it. The aid agency says water, food and emergency shelter will be the biggest needs in the coming days. “Some of the poorest provinces are located near the coast and we expect thousands of people to need immediate help,” said Tom Hollywood, CRS’ Representative for South America.
Heavy rainfall has complicated access to affected areas
CRS reports that Esmeraldas and Manabí, two of the hardest hit areas, have received substantial rainfall recently, making them prone to potential landslides which is complicating access. “Roads going out to the coast are typically not very good and with potential landslides, getting to the affected areas will be a challenge. Areas that are already poor and have been hammered by El Nino rains now have to deal with the aftermath of a major earthquake,” Hollywood said.
At the weekend, communications were down or intermittent in many parts of the country further complicating the logistics of assessing the damage and where the biggest needs are.
The quake’s epicenter was 16 miles southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, and tremors could be felt as far away as Quito, the country’s capital 100 miles to the south.
Given the range of impact on a relatively large geographical swath of the country, CRS is coordinating with several actors and partners to determine which areas need to be assessed first.
This is the strongest earthquake Ecuador has experienced since an earthquake 1979 that triggered tsunamis and killed up to 600 people.
CRS - 50 years of first response experience in Ecuador
CRS has worked in Ecuador since the 1960s. Over the past five years, CRS has greatly invested in training Caritas diocesan members on risk mapping, contingency planning, first responders, and other measures in areas prone to flooding, seismic activity, and extreme weather. CRS also has ongoing programming in the affected areas with the Scalabrini Mission Sisters that provides critical humanitarian, psychological, social and legal aid to Colombian refugees.