Ecuador's most powerful earthquake in decades has claimed 272 lives and left more than 2,500 injured. Authorities warn that the death toll is likely to soar, with many victims still missing and possibly trapped under piles of rubble from collapsed buildings.
The earthquake's epicenter is located 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) southeast of Muisne, a remote fishing village that is popular among tourists. Manabi Province was the hardest-hit area, where 200 people were reported dead.
Ecuador President Rafael Correa has declared a national emergency and urged his countrymen to remain calm and stay strong amidst this tragedy. State of emergency alerts were issued for the provinces that were greatly hit including Santa Elena, Guayas, Santo Domingo, Los Rios and Esmeraldas.
According to President Correa, the government's immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble.
"Everything can be rebuilt, but lives cannot be recovered, and that's what hurts the most," he said. Correa also thanked the world for sending their help and prayers for the people of Ecuador.
In a statement released by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, he praised the quick and adequate response of Ecuadorian responders and medical professionals.
"We remain in close contact with Ecuadorian authorities and will continue to monitor the situation closely," the statement added.
Ecuador deployed 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers have been deployed to the affected areas to facilitate rescue efforts. Additional K9 units were also brought in to help locate more survivors. Military personnel are currently building temporary shelters and makeshift hospitals in the worst hit towns of Pedernales and Portoviejo to assist the residents.
Red Cross has also sent out 800 volunteers to the affected communities. Diego Castellanos from Ecuador Red Cross said that a lot of these areas can only be accessed by helicopter, making the work of the volunteers extremely dangerous and difficult.
In an interview with Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador's national emergency management office, he said that many highways are in bad shape due to bad weather, thus slowing rescue efforts.
"The lack of water and communication remains a big problem," Peñaherrera added.
With no electricity and many roads blocked, affected residents camped out in the streets while others ran to higher grounds in fear of a possible tsunami. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, however, said that tsunami threat has "mostly passed."
The Ecuador earthquake follows two deadly quakes in Japan last week. Nine people were killed and hundreds injured when a 6.4 magnitude earthquake shook the Kyushu region on Thursday. Another earthquake hit the same area Saturday.