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Rescue Workers Are Losing Hope of Finding Survivors After Ecuador's Massive Earthquake

Four days after the quake, the government of President Rafael Correa said rescue efforts will now be focused on the search for corpses.

by Reuters News Agency and Carolina Loza
Apr 19 2016, 9:38pm

Equipos de rescate con perros adiestrados buscan supervivientes en Pedernales, Ecuador, el 18 de abril de 2016. (Imagen vía EPA/José Jacome)

Rescuers in Ecuador were losing hope on Tuesday of finding more survivors from Saturday's earthquake that killed at least 433 people and left 231 people missing, according to the government.

Distraught family members beseeched rescue teams to find missing loved ones as they used dogs, bare hands, and excavators to hunt through debris of flattened homes, hotels and stores in the hardest-hit Pacific coastal region. However, Interior Minister José Serrano told Reuters that rescue efforts were now focused on the search for corpses.

On Tuesday, three priests said prayers and sprinkled holy water on bodies being hauled out of the debris of a small supermarket near the central square of Pedernales, a devastated beach town. The corpses of two adults and one child had already been carried out on stretchers. Firemen, soldiers and police were still scouring for a missing child.

"My cousin said you could hear people yelling until yesterday," said Tito Torres, the son of the store's owners, who rushed to Pedernales from the capital Quito after the quake. His parents managed to run out of the store before the roof partially collapsed.

The 7.8 magnitude quake also injured more than 4,000, destroyed or damaged about 1,500 buildings, and left 20,500 sleeping in shelters, according to the government that has also predicted that it could knock two to three percentage points off economic growth that has already been badly hit by plunging oil revenues.

"Let's not kid ourselves, it will be a long struggle," President Rafael Correa said while supervising work in the disaster zone, "Reconstruction for years, billions in investment."

Though security forces and relief workers appeared to mobilize quickly and government officials were fast to reach scenes of disaster, many in isolated areas complained they still lacked water, food and medicine.

Related: Death Toll in Ecuador Rises to 350 After Saturday's Earthquake

The government has also been criticized for seeking to control the news coming out of the affected area, particularly in the initial aftermath when the information was largely restricted to periodic bulletins on state-owned TV channels, and occasional presidential tweets.

This led many to rely on social media for information, and also fueled non-official efforts to organize volunteer help that saw many groups of people heading from the capital Quito to the disaster zone.

Reports from the area, however, suggested the volunteer effort could be backfiring.

"Many people are going into these areas to help, not ready to cope with what they see in the towns," said Quito resident Johanna Coello, citing what relatives in the area were telling her.

Ricardo Zambrano, a university lecturer from the city Manta where the relief effort is centered, said the main problem is that there is little the volunteers can usefully do once they get to the affected areas.

"Many people reach out to help, but there are no tools," Zambrano said. "Doctors arrive from Quito, from different parts of the country and ask for material to work but we do not have enough supplies."

Follow Carolina Loza on Twitter: @CLozaLeon