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Strong 7.8 Quake Off Ecuador; 41 Dead


At least 41 people have been killed by the powerful earthquake that struck western Ecuador on Saturday and the toll will likely rise further, the country's Vice President Jorge Glas said. "Sadly the information we currently have is that 41 citizens have lost their lives in this emergency... This death toll will unfortunately rise in the coming hours," Glas said in televised comments.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre also issued warning for the nearby Pacific coastline. "There is considerable (structural) damage in the area near the epicenter as well as points as far away as Guayaquil," Ecuador's Geophysical Office (IG) said. Media published photographs of a bridge and the roof of a shopping centre that collapsed in the port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador's most populous city on the Pacific coast.

President Rafael Correa, on a visit to the Vatican, sent a message of support on Twitter. "Authorities are already out evaluating damage and taking action" as needed," he said. Glas earlier said on Twitter that a national emergency committee had been activated.

Tsunami warning:- With a depth of 10 kilometres (six miles), the quake struck at 2358 GMT about 173 km west-northwest of Quito and just 28 kilometres south-southeast of Muisne, according to the US Geological Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide. "Based on the preliminary earthquake parameters, hazardous tsunami waves are possible for coasts located within 300 kilometres of the earthquake epicenter," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.

Buildings swayed in Quito but authorities did not immediately report injuries or damage. The strong movement was felt in northern and southern parts of the Quito area, knocking out electricity in places. Cristina Duran, 45, grabbed her three pets and stood under a large doorway to avoid shards of glass falling from shattered windows. "I was frightened. And I just kept asking for it to be over," she told AFP.

Panic on the streets:- Aftershocks kept rattling the country, as structural damage was reported in the coastal provinces of Manabi and Guayas. At the Guayaquil airport passengers awaiting flights dashed out of terminals when they felt the shaking. "Lights fell down from the ceiling. People were running around in shock," said Luis Quimis, 30, who was waiting to catch a flight to Quito.

In northern Quito, people ran out of their homes frightened, as power lines swayed back and forth and cables danced. "Oh, my God, it was the biggest and strongest earthquake I have felt in my whole life. It lasted a long time, and I was feeling dizzy. I couldn't walk. ... I wanted to run out into the street, but I couldn't," said Maria Torres, 60.

In fact, two earthquakes jolted the same area just 11 minutes apart, the USGS said. The first had a magnitude of 4.8 and the second of 7.8. The earthquake also rattled northern Peru and southern Colombia, according to authorities in those countries, although no casualties were reported. Peruvian officials however urged coastal residents to stay away from the beach.

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