The death toll from Ecuador’s devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake last week has risen to 646 people, President Rafael Correa said during a TV broadcast on Saturday.
Last Saturday’s quake, the worst in nearly seven decades, injured around 12,500 people and left 130 missing along the country’s ravaged Pacific coast.
“These have been sad days for the homeland,” a visibly moved Correa said during his regular Saturday television broadcast. “The country is in crisis.”
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Several strong tremors and more than 700 aftershocks have continued to shake the country since the major quake, sparking momentary panic but little additional damage. Tremors are expected to continue for several weeks.
With close to 7,000 buildings destroyed, more than 26,000 people were living in shelters. Some 14,000 security personnel were keeping order in quake-hit areas, with only sporadic looting reported.
Survivors in the quake zone were receiving food, water and medicine from the government and scores of foreign aid workers, though Correa has acknowledged that bad roads delayed aid reaching some communities.
Correa’s leftist government, facing mammoth rebuilding at a time of greatly reduced oil revenues for the OPEC country, has said it would temporarily increase some taxes, offer assets for sale and possibly issue bonds abroad to fund reconstruction. Congress will begin debate on the tax proposal on Tuesday.
Correa has estimated damage at $2 billion to $3 billion. Lower oil revenue has already left the country of 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment.
The country’s private banking association said on Saturday its member banks would defer payments on credit cards, loans and mortgages for clients in the quake zone for three months, to help reconstruction efforts.