A Mw 7.8 earthquake struck the Esmeralda Province near the west coast of northern Ecuador on April 16, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The quake occurred at 6:58 PM local time (23:58 UTC) about 17 miles (27 km) south-southeast of Muisne and about 106 miles (170 km) west-northwest of Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
According to government officials, more than 350 fatalities have been reported, with the number expected to rise as emergency crews assess affected areas. The earthquake caused widespread damage in provinces bordering the northwest coast, injuring more than 2,000 and leaving thousands homeless, according to media reports. Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute recorded 230 aftershocks as of Sunday night, with some reported as strong. Our first thoughts and concerns are with those directly affected by this event.
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It will take time to fully establish the scope and severity of the impacts of this event. More than 350 fatalities have been reported, however, President Rafael told reporters that he fears the number will likely increase.
Portoviejo, a provincial capital with a population of 300,000, was one of the hardest hit, with at least 100 deaths reported. Nearly 130 inmates in Portoviejo were able to escape after the earthquake struck. Of those that escaped, more than 35 had been recaptured by Sunday night.
In the coastal town of Chamanga, authorities estimated more than 90 percent of homes had damage. In the town of Guayaquil, a roof collapsed at a shopping center and a collapsed highway overpass fatally wounded a driver. The resort town of Pedernales, near the epicenter of the quake, had reports of damage to a number of homes and parked cars.
Shaking was felt in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where the quake was reported to have knocked out power and cellphone coverage in neighborhoods. Mayor Mauricio Rodas reported rockslides on roads leading to the capital, with reports of collapsed walls for houses in the area.
Teams from several European and Latin American countries have sent aid workers to assist in the search effort.
The USGS PAGER service estimates an 18 percent chance of economic losses of USD 1 billion or more, and a 50 percent chance of economic losses of USD 100 million or more. The president stated that the cost of the quake for Ecuador could be in the billions of dollars, according to media reports.
The country’s energy industry appeared to be intact after the earthquake; however, the main refinery of Esmeraldas was closed as a precaution. The country’s exports of bananas, flowers, cacao and fish could be impeded by damaged roads and port delays.
According to the USGS, the earthquake occurred in a seismically active region between the Nazca and South America plates. In this area, the Nazca plate subducts under the South America plate at about 61 mm (2.4 inches) per year. This earthquake is consistent with slip (or megathrust) between the two plates. Media reports indicate that this is the largest earthquake to strike Ecuador since 1979.
Subduction along the Ecuador trench to the west of Ecuador, and the Peru-Chile trench to the south, has produced the Andes Mountain range together with some of the largest earthquakes in the world. This includes the 1960 magnitude 9.5 earthquake in southern Chile, the largest measured earthquake on record.
Sources: USGS, Reuters News, Associated Press, BBC News, New York Times.
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