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Ecuador earthquake deaths pass 500

BBC News BBC News 20/04/2016
A Ecuadorian family sleeps outside following a powerful earthquake: Thousands have been forced to sleep outside since the earthquake © AP Thousands have been forced to sleep outside since the earthquake

The death toll from Saturday's devastating earthquake in Ecuador has risen to 525 and could increase by many more, authorities in the country say.

Rescue work following a powerful earthquake in Ecuador: Search efforts continue but hopes of finding survivors are fading © AFP Search efforts continue but hopes of finding survivors are fading

Figures given by officials for the number of people missing ranged from 231 to 1,700.

A soldier outside a badly damaged house from Ecuador's earthquake: The earthquake shattered vital infrastructure © AFP The earthquake shattered vital infrastructure

Thousands of people have been left homeless, making them vulnerable to dirty drinking water and disease.

Earthquake zone in Ecuador © BBC Earthquake zone in Ecuador

Meanwhile a new 6.2 magnitude quake struck off the Ecuadorean coast, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

The quake was centred 70km (44 miles) west of Esmeraldas at a shallow depth of 10km.

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More than 4,000 people have been injured in the disaster, officials said,

The World Food Programme and Oxfam are sending supplies, while the UN said it was preparing a "major airlift".

Deputy Interior Minister Diego Fuentes said 2,000 people had been reported missing since the quake struck. He said that 300 had been located since.

Ecuador's Defence Minister Ricardo Patino later said that 231 people were still missing.

Hopes wane

The cost of rebuilding could be up to $3bn (£2.1bn), President Rafael Correa said during a visit to the worst-affected region.

Sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers were being used to search for survivors in areas and the smell of rotting bodies was filling the air, witnesses said.

Some people have been pulled out of the rubble alive but, despite the efforts of emergency teams, hope is fading that others will be found.

From Tuesday, rescue efforts would become more of a hunt for corpses, Ecuador's Interior Minister Jose Serrano told Reuters.

Foreign nationals from the UK, Ireland, Canada, Colombia, Cuba and the Dominican Republic have been confirmed among the dead.

Focus is turning to the survivors. The quake damaged communications, transport links and sanitation, hampering relief efforts.

Unicef has warned that 150,000 children have been affected by the disaster and said landslides were complicating rescue efforts in some areas, and some towns were without electricity.

The Spanish Red Cross estimated that up to 100,000 people would need assistance.

Major international and aid organisations are sending help:

The WFP is sending enough food to feed 8,000 of the most severely affected people

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it would send shelter and mosquito nets in an airlift due within 48 hours

Oxfam said its first shipment of material providing safe drinking water would be sent on Wednesday

Save the Children said it was working "around the clock" and trying to ensure children can continue their education despite the damage

Reconstruction costs are likely to be huge at a time when the oil-producing country is already reeling from the slump in global crude prices.

Funerals for some of those killed have been held in Portoviejo and Pedernales, two towns that were the worst hit.

The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck at a fairly shallow depth of 19.2km (11.9 miles), about 27km from Muisne in a sparsely populated area.

Scientists say there is no connection between the quake in Ecuador and a severe tremor in southern Japan, which also occurred on Saturday.

Are you in Ecuador? Have you been affected by the earthquake? Let us know about your experiences. Email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk with your stories.

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