At least 15 dead following powerful earthquake in Ecuador

A deadly earthquake that rocked southern Ecuador on Saturday has left one province in a state of emergency, as officials attempt to pick up the pieces from the 6.8-magnitude strike.

On Saturday afternoon, the earthquake hit the town of Baláo, about 50 miles south of the highly-populated city of Guayaquil, with destruction quickly following the strike.

A police officer looks up next to a car crushed by debris after an earthquake shook Cuenca, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Xavier Caivinagua)

As of Monday morning, at least 15 people have died due to the earthquake, with 12 of the deaths coming in the province of El Oro, according to The Associated Press.

According to local officials, at least three of the deaths in El Oro happened when a security camera tower fell. Several others were also reported to be trapped under rubble in El Oro, including those trapped after a two-story home collapsed in the community of Machala.

In the province of Azuay, one person died when a wall collapsed onto a car. The General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency of Ecuador announced Sunday that a state of emergency will be declared for Azuay. The office also stated that an estimated 381 people were injured in the quake and that the injured were being treated at hospitals. No further details on the injuries have been released as of Sunday afternoon.

Household belongings float in water after an earthquake shook Machala, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Erick Feijoo)

Another victim of the earthquake was found in Peru near the Ecuador border, with Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otárola stating that a 4-year-old girl died from head trauma from the collapse of a home in the Tumbes region.


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The United States Geological Survey reported that the earthquake was more than 65 km (almost 41 miles) deep and gave an "orange alert" for the strike. The USGS states that an "orange alert" is for "shaking-related fatalities" and that "significant casualties are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread." Orange alerts are consistent with a death toll of anywhere between 100 and 1,000 people. The USGS also issued a "yellow alert" for economic losses, saying that "some damage is possible" and that estimated losses can go up to $100 million.

Damages included falling bricks and debris in the historic center of Cuenca, a city that is on the United Nations' list of world heritage sites. Officials also reported damages to healthcare centers and schools.

Residents recover belongings from the debris of their collapsed homes after an earthquake shook Machala, Ecuador, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

"Overall, the population in this region resides in structures that are highly vulnerable to earthquake shaking, though some resistant structures exist," the USGS website states, also pointing out that recent earthquakes in Ecuador come with "secondary hazards" such as mudslides that can prolong damages and increase the death toll.

Ecuador is no stranger to dangerous earthquakes in recent years. In April 2016, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shocked the country's coastline, killing nearly 700 people and injuring more than 6,000. In February 2019, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake also struck in the southern part of the country, registering two aftershocks of at least 6.0 magnitude within 30 minutes of the initial quake.

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