From the highlands to the coast, earthquakes damage Ecuador, Peru

QUITO – Juan Vera lost three relatives when a powerful earthquake that shook parts of Ecuador and Peru on Saturday collapsed his niece’s home. The government has offered to pay for the funerals of the woman and her baby and her partner, but Vera wonders why the local authorities allowed his relatives to live in such an old house.

“Due to its age, this building should have already been demolished,” Vera said outside the morgue in the Ecuadorian municipality of Machala, where he was waiting for the three bodies to be released. “…Sorry, the mayor’s office is the entity that has to sort these things out through their planning departments so that the buildings are in good condition to be rented out or occupied.”

The magnitude 6.8 earthquake, as reported by the US Geological Survey, killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and collapsed homes and buildings in communities ranging from coastal areas to highlands. But in Ecuador, regardless of geography, many of the destroyed homes had much in common: they housed the poor, were old, and didn’t meet building standards in the earthquake-prone country.

The earthquake was concentrated just off the Pacific coast about 50 miles (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 at least 381 people were injured and dozens of homes, schools and health centers were 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 that was crushed by debris from a house in the Andean community of Cuenca, according to the Risk Management Secretariat, Ecuador’s civil protection agency.

In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under rubble. In the community of Machala, a two-story house collapsed before people could evacuate, a pier gave way and the walls of a building collapsed, trapping an unknown number of people.

Quito-based architect Germán Narváez said the homes most affected by earthquakes are those of poor construction and lacking in foundation, structure and engineering design. He added that the houses are also old and built from materials such as adobe bricks, which were once commonly used in Andean communities.

“At critical moments of seismic movement, they tend to collapse,” he said.

Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake concentrated farther north on the Pacific coast in a sparsely populated area of ​​the country killed more than 600 people.

In Peru, the earthquake was felt from the northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. Peruvian Prime Minister Alberto Otárola said a 4-year-old girl had died from head trauma sustained when her home collapsed in the Tumbes region on the border with Ecuador.

Peruvian authorities also reported that four houses were destroyed in Tumbes and the old walls of an army barracks collapsed.

Saturday’s earthquake destroyed Dolores Vaca’s home in Machala. The moment she felt the first tug, she said, she ran into the street while her husband managed to pull her daughter out. Then “everything fell apart, the house was leveled, everything was lost,” she said.

Vaca’s neighbors weren’t so lucky. She said five died when the house next to hers collapsed.

In Guayaquil, about 270 kilometers southwest of the capital Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and houses and some collapsed walls. Videos shared on social media show people gathered on the streets of Guayaquil, which anchors a metropolitan area of ​​over 3 million people and nearby communities.

A video posted online showed three anchors of a show dart from their studio table as the set wobbled. They initially tried to shake it off as a slight tremor, but soon fled the camera. One host hinted that the show would be going on a commercial break, while another reiterated, “My god, my god.”

A report by Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Directorate ruled out a tsunami threat.

Machala student Katherine Cruz said her home shook so badly she couldn’t even get up to leave her room and flee onto the street.

“It was awful. 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.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. From the highlands to the coast, earthquakes damage Ecuador, Peru

Sarah Y. Kim

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