The death toll from a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has risen to 233, President Rafael Correa said a day after the quake on the South American country’s northwest coast, one of the strongest in decades.
Correa said on his Twitter feed Sunday that he would land in Manta at 6:30 p.m. Sunday local time, after cutting short a trip to Rome, where he had attended a conference at the Vatican, to rush home to deal with the damage from the quake.
“Thanks to the whole world for solidarity,” the president tweeted. “Our endless love to the families of the fallen,” he said on an earlier post.
The nation’s geophysical institute said on its web page that the quake was centered in the Manabi province, about 170 kilometers (106 miles) west-northwest of the capital, Quito. The institute reported “considerable damage” and said more than 36 aftershocks, one measuring 5 on the Richter scale, had followed.
“Be strong,” Vice President Jorge Glas said at a press conference. “We will recover from this. These are very hard times.”
The government sent 10,000 troops and 4,600 police officers to the region for search and rescue operations, Glas said in a Twitter posting. Ecuador is awaiting aid from Mexico and Venezuela, he said.
The number of people injured was put at 588 as of early Sunday morning, according to the most recent statement posted on the nation’s risk management agency website. The agency said that 10,000 bottles of water would be shipped to some of the affected areas in the Manabi province, along with 7,668 sleeping kits and food for 3,000.
Earlier, officials had said that at least 77 were killed and 570 were injured.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, in a post on Twitter, offered “any support” to help Ecuadorian authorities.
Pope Francis urged people to pray for the earthquake victims, according to the Associated Press. “May the help of God and of the brothers give them strength and support,” he said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. “stands ready to assist and support” Ecuador, and the U.S. embassy in Quito expressed condolences on Twitter, saying it was in close contact with Ecuadorian authorities.
As houses in Quito shook and power went off briefly, residents evacuated and stood outside while waiting for the temblor, which lasted about three minutes, to stop.
“This is a very painful test but we will make it,” Correa said in an interview with the nation’s public broadcaster. “Calm, energy, organization. A big hug to families that have lost their beloved ones.”
State oil company PetroEcuador said Sunday that it was slowly restarting operations after making initial safety inspections. The company said that while the La Libertad and Shushufindi refineries were working normally, installations in the Esmeraldas refinery were still being evaluated.
The country’s oil ministry had reported on Twitter that there was no damage to “strategic” infrastructure projects, although some operations were suspended for safety.
Ecuador’s Finance Ministry has $300 million in emergency funds and will also use contingent financing to help pay for earthquake reconstruction, the government said in a statement published in the president’s official gazette.
In an earlier Twitter posting, before cutting short his visit to Rome, Correa said the government was ready to use emergency credit lines with multilateral lenders. “The damage is severe,” Correa said. “This was one of the strongest quakes in decades.”
In Esmeralda province, 98 percent of the power had been restored by early Sunday, Glas said in a Twitter post. Electricity was restored in Jipijapa, Pajan, Puerto López, Puerto Cayo and part of Portoviejo and Montecristi, Glas said on Twitter.