Ecuador buries dead as hope for survivors fade

2016-04-20 08:45
The sun sets in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. (Rodrigo Buenda, AFP)

The sun sets in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. (Rodrigo Buenda, AFP)

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Montecristi - Ecuadoreans began burying loved ones felled by the country's deadliest earthquake in decades, while hopes faded that more survivors will be found.

In the small town of Montecristi, near the port city of Manta, two children were among those buried on Tuesday. They were killed with their mother while buying school supplies when the magnitude-7.8 quake struck on Saturday night.

The funeral had to be held outside under a makeshift awning, because the town's Roman Catholic church was unsafe from structural damage. Family members wailed loudly and one man fainted as the children were laid to rest in an above-ground vault.

Scenes of mourning multiplied all along Ecuador's normally placid Pacific coastline, where the tremor flattened towns and killed hundreds. Funeral homes are running out of caskets to accommodate so many casualties, and local governments are paying to bring in caskets from other cities.

The government put the death toll at 507 late on Tuesday, but officials expected more bodies to be found, with the Defense Department reporting 231 people still missing. The final toll could surpass casualties from earthquakes in Chile and Peru in the past decade. Among the dead were at least nine foreigners, including an American and two Canadians.

Hope not totally lost

Even as grief mounted, there were glimmers of hope.

In several cities on Tuesday rescuers with sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks and special probes that can detect breathing from far away continued to search for survivors among the rubble. At least six were found in Manta early on Tuesday.

One of the most-hopeful tales was that of Pablo Cordova, who held out for 36 hours beneath the rubble of the hotel where he worked in Portoviejo, drinking his own urine and praying that cellphone service would be restored before his phone battery died. He was finally able to call his wife on Monday afternoon and was pulled from the wreckage soon after by a team of rescuers from Colombia

Cordova's wife had given up on ever seeing him again and managed to buy a casket.

"They were organising the funeral, but I've been reborn," Cordova said on Tuesday, grinning from beneath his bushy mustache in a provincial hospital. "I will have to give that coffin back because I still have a long way to go before I die."

Rescuers who have arrived from Mexico, Colombia, Spain and other nations said they would keep searching for survivors on Wednesday, but cautioned that time was running out and the likelihood of finding more people alive grew smaller with the passage of every hour.

Even as authorities begin to shift their attention to restoring electricity and clearing debris, the earth continued to move. Late on Tuesday afternoon, a magnitude-5.5 tremor rattled buildings in the region. It was the second strongest of more than 400 aftershocks since the weekend quake and was felt 170 km away in the capital of Quito.

Read more on:    ecuador  |  earthquakes

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