Saturday, April 23, 2016

Spotlight: Earthquake-hit Ecuador calls for continued international support

PORTOVIEJO (ECUADOR), April 22, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Rescue workers look on as they take a break at one of the zones affected by the earthquake in Portoviejo, Ecuador, on April 21, 2016. (Xinhua/Hao Yunfu)
QUITO, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Experts warned Friday that 6.8-magnitude aftershocks could shake Ecuador's north Pacific coast that was hit by a powerful earthquake last Saturday, while Quito called for continued international support for disaster relief and reconstruction.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake a week ago left 602 people dead, 12,492 wounded and 130 missing, according to the latest government data.
"The aftershocks could reach a degree less than the main earthquake. That means that if we had one of 7.8, the aftershocks could reach a magnitude of up to 6.8," Gabriela Ponce, head of Ecuador's Geophysical Institute, said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
She said that the aftershocks are coming from the tourist port of Manta in the western province of Manabi and Punta Galera, in the northern province of Esmeraldas. These two provinces were the worst affected by the quake.
Since the earthquake, there have been more than 700 aftershocks, according to Ponce.
In the past few hours, five aftershocks measuring over 6 degrees on the Richter scale have been recorded. "We have to be aware that this could continue," said the seismologist.
"The aftershocks could continue for days, weeks or even months," Ponce said while calling on the population to try to keep calm.
The three strongest aftershocks so far, measuring 6.2, 6 and 6.1 degrees on the Richter scale respectively, happened consecutively at 22:03, 22:20 and 22:30 local time Thursday (0303, 0320 and 0330 GMT Friday), the Geophysical Institute said via its Twitter account.
"In terms of aftershocks, this is a typical reaction after a large event (earthquake)," Ponce said.
The movements have the majority of the population on tenterhooks due to the consequences left by the earthquake.
In Manabi, the chain of aftershocks caused the military to evacuate people living in the city of Bahia de Caraquez.
Meanwhile, people are living in uncertainty in other parts of the country such as Guayaquil, where they felt an earthquake measuring 5.2 degrees on the Richter Scale on Friday morning. The epicenter was close to Puna Island, in the Gulf of Guayaquil.
This earthquake was isolated and is not related to the aftershocks from Saturday's earthquake, according to Ponce.
In Quito, people are also worried as various aftershocks have been strongly felt in the city causing residents to lose sleep.
"It has been difficult to fall asleep because the aftershocks are consecutive and you can feel them, especially at night. My family has prepared a backpack with necessaries so as to be ready if we need to go out onto the street or to a safe place at any given moment," Silvya Ruiz, who lives in the south of Quito, told Xinhua.
On Friday, the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry, which has managed all the international humanitarian aid that has come flooding in, highlighted the need for continued international support in building shelters and reconstruction efforts.
"Soon we will stop appearing on the front pages of the newspapers but the aid and cooperation will continue to be necessary for the survivors," a statement from the ministry quoted Foreign Minister Guillaume Long as saying.
Long made the remarks when accompanying Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of the American States, and delegates from the United Nations World Food Program on a visit to Manta.
The officials observed the material damage in the area with an aim to deliver aid to the thousands of people affected by the disaster, the statement said. Currently, 113 people have been rescued alive and 26,091 people are being housed in shelters.
In terms of material damage, 6,998 buildings have been destroyed, 2,740 buildings have been affected and 281 schools are damaged, according to the ministry.
National and international aid continues arriving in the affected areas.
On Friday, various government institutions announced via their Twitter accounts the arrival of foodstuffs, supplies, tents and other inputs from Peru, Colombia, Russia and the United States.
Experts say that two main reasons -- poorly built buildings and the lack of preparation among Ecuadorians -- resulted in the high death toll.
Ponce said that most Ecuadorians do not consider safety when building a home.
The weakness of Ecuador's buildings was shown in its 2010 census when, of 337,970 homes in Manabi, 67 percent had structurally weak walls.
After the devastating Haiti earthquake in 2010, Ecuador began devising stricter construction rules, which came into force in 2014.
The Ecuadorian Construction Norm stipulates that all new construction must be able to withstand earthquakes, but most of the country does not comply with it as the majority of the construction is illicit.
Silverio Duran, president of Ecuador's Chamber of the Construction Industry, told Xinhua that "the country has no culture of applying construction norms. People do not invest in hiring professionals, which is important and could save their lives."
Builder Mario Sosa added a list of other problems, including the preference to opt for cheaper, inadequate building materials.
The 2010 census registered 4.6 million houses in Ecuador, more than 3 million of which are at risk when an earthquake strikes.
Furthermore, many Ecuadorians do not know how to react when a disaster strikes.
The country belongs to the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean, one of the most seismically active parts of the world, yet Ponce said Ecuadorians are not well prepared to deal with earthquakes.
"We must begin to have more drills so that people are familiar with evacuation routes and will think automatically about what to do and move quickly when an earthquake hits," she said, adding that the country needs to set up early warning system or evacuation alarms for earthquakes.
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