From the highlands to the coast, an earthquake damages Ecuador and Peru
QUITO, Ecuador — Juan Vera lost three loved ones when a massive earthquake that rocked Ecuador and Peru on Saturday caused his niece’s home to collapse. The government has offered to pay for the woman’s funeral and that of her baby and partner, but Vera wonders why local authorities allowed her relatives to live in such an old house.
“Because of its age, this building should have been demolished by now,” Vera said outside the morgue of the Ecuadorian community of Machala, where he was waiting for the three bodies to be released. “…I’m sorry, the mayor’s office is the entity that has to regulate these things through its planning departments so that the buildings are in good condition to be rented out or lived in.”
The roughly magnitude 6.8 earthquake, as reported by the US Geological Survey, killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes and buildings in widely different communities , from coastal areas to highlands. But in Ecuador, regardless of geography, many houses that collapsed had much in common: they housed the poor, were old and did not meet construction standards in this earthquake-prone country.
The quake was concentrated just off the Pacific coast, about 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 that at least 381 people had been injured and dozens of homes, schools and health care centers had been damaged.
The office of Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso reported that 12 of the victims died in the coastal state of El Oro and two in the highland state of Azuay.
One of the victims in Azuay was a passenger in a vehicle crushed by the rubble of a house in the Andean community of Cuenca, according to the Risk Management Secretariat, Ecuador’s emergency response agency.
In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under the rubble. In the community of Machala, a two-storey house collapsed before people could evacuate, a pier gave way and the walls of a building cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.
Quito-based architect Germán Narváez said the houses most affected during earthquakes are those that are poorly constructed and lack foundations, structure and technical design. He added that the houses are also old and built with materials such as adobe, which was once frequently 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 centered further north on the Pacific coast in a less populated area of the country killed more than 600 people.
In Peru, the earthquake was felt from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said a 4-year-old girl died from head trauma sustained when her house 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.
Saturday’s earthquake destroyed Dolores Vaca’s house in Machala. The moment she felt the first jolt, she said, she fled into the street while her husband managed to drag their daughter. Then, “everything fell apart, the house collapsed, everything was lost,” she said.
Vaca’s neighbors weren’t so lucky. She said five people 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 homes, as well as collapsed walls. Videos shared on social media show people gathering in the streets of Guayaquil, which anchors a metropolitan area of more than 3 million people, and nearby communities.
Video posted online showed three anchors of a show dart from their studio desk as the set shook. They first tried to shake off a minor earthquake, but quickly ran away from the camera. One presenter indicated that the show would take a commercial break, while another repeated, “My God, my God.”
A report from Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.
Katherine Cruz, a student at Machala, 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 had never felt anything like this in my life,” she said. ___
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela. Associated Press writer Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.