By GONZALO SOLANO and REGINA GARCIA CANO (Associated Press)
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Juan Vera lost three relatives when a powerful earthquake that shook parts of Ecuador and Peru on Saturday toppled his niece’s house. The government has offered to pay for the burial of the woman and her baby and her partner, but Vera wonders why the local authorities allowed the relatives to live in such an old house.
“Because of its age, that building should have already been demolished,” Vera said outside the mortuary in the Ecuadorian community of Machala, where she was waiting for the three bodies to be released. “… I’m sorry, the town hall is the entity that has to regulate these things through its planning directions so that the buildings are in good condition to be rented or lived in.”
The 6.8-magnitude quake, reported by the US Geological Survey, killed at least 15 people and toppled homes and buildings in widely varying communities from coastal to mountainous areas. But in Ecuador, regardless of geography, many of the houses that collapsed had a lot in common: They housed the poor, they were old, and they didn’t meet building standards in the earthquake-prone country.
As of Sunday, the number of people injured in Ecuador was reported to be at least 446. The quake struck just off the Pacific coast, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city.
One of the victims died in Peru, while 14 others died in Ecuador, where authorities also reported more than 300 homes, schools, health centers and other buildings damaged. Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso’s office reported that 12 of the victims died in the coastal state of El Oro and two in the mountainous state of Azuay.
One of the victims in Azuay was a passenger in a vehicle crushed by debris from a house in the Andean community of Cuenca, according to the Secretariat of Risk Management, Ecuador’s emergency response agency.
In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under the rubble. In Machala community, a two-story house collapsed before people could evacuate, a dam gave way and the walls of a building cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.
Quito-based architect Germán Narváez said that the houses most affected during earthquakes are those with poor construction and lack of foundation, structure and technical design. He added that the houses are also old and built with materials such as adobe, which was once commonly used in Andean communities.
“At critical moments of seismic movements, they tend to collapse,” he said.
Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake that struck further north on the Pacific coast in a less populated part of the country killed more than 600 people.
In Peru, the earthquake was felt from the northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said a 4-year-old girl died of head trauma suffered when her home collapsed in the Tumbes region on the border with Ecuador.
Peruvian authorities also reported that four houses were destroyed and the old walls of an army barracks collapsed in Tumbes.
Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims during his weekly Sunday noon blessing.
“I am close to the Ecuadorian people and I assure them of my prayers for the dead and the suffering,” Francis said.
Saturday’s quake killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and toppled homes and buildings in widely varying communities, from coastal areas to mountainous areas. At least one of the deaths was in Peru.
Saturday’s earthquake destroyed Dolores Vaca’s house in Machala. The moment she felt the first jolt, she said, she ran into the street while her husband managed to pull their daughter out. Then, “everything came crashing down, the house was flattened, everything was lost,” she said.
Vaca’s neighbors were not so lucky. She said five died when the house next to hers collapsed.
In Guayaquil, about 170 miles (270 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and houses, as well as some collapsed walls. Videos shared on social media show people gathered on the streets of Guayaquil, which anchors a metropolitan area of more than 3 million people, and nearby communities.
A video posted online showed three anchors of a show jib at their studio office as the set shook. They initially tried to shake it off as a minor earthquake, but soon ran off camera. One anchor indicated that the show would go into a commercial break, while another repeated: “My God, my God.”
A report by Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.
Machala student Katherine Cruz said her house shook so badly she couldn’t even get up to leave her room and run out into the street.
“It was horrible. I’ve never felt anything like it in my life,” she said. ___
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela. Associated Press writer Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.