Ecuador quake toll continues to rise

More than 1500 people are also believed injured in the 7.

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8 magnitude quake, which caused buildings and roads to collapse in a number of western towns.

The quake struck Ecuador off the Pacific coast on Saturday and was felt around the nation of 16 million people, and in parts of neighbouring Colombia.

The full extent of the damage is yet to be assessed and an initial tsunami warning has been lifted, although residents have still been warned to seek higher ground.

The government says about 13,500 security personnel are keeping order around the country and almost AU$800 million in credit from multilateral lenders has been immediately activated for the emergency.

President Rafael Correa rushed home from a trip to Italy while the Vice-President, Jorge Glas, has called for calm, saying the rescue effort has been boosted by international help.

“I am very grateful for the solidarity and rapid response of friends – Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Spain, the European Union – at this time, as well as others that have committed to provide specialized rescuers in working with tools and technology and nutrition during this kind of situation.”

Coastal areas nearest the epicentre have been worst affected, especially Pedernales, a tourist spot which appears to have been largely flattened.

Authorities say there have been more than 160 aftershocks so far, mainly in the Pedernales area, and a state of emergency has been declared in six provinces.

In the municipality of Chamanga, resident Nely Intriago lost everything in the earthquake but is grateful she and her family survived.

“I was in Atacames shopping, my daughter was home and she was almost trapped but her husband managed to get to her and get her out. Once they managed to get out, the house came down. I found my house like this. What am I going to do? Cry, that’s all. Now we are on the street left with nothing.”

More than 800 volunteers and staff of the Ecuador Red Cross are also in the affected communities providing first aid as well as search and rescue activities.

The Ecuador Red Cross has also organised health teams and hospital units, deploying a National Disaster Response Team to carry out assessments of the humanitarian needs following the earthquake.

Diego Castallanos is with the Red Cross in Ecuador.

He’s told Al Jazeera the team is working in challenging conditions.

“It is difficult because we can’t get to these communities by road, because some of the roads collapsed too so it is only possible by helicopter in some parts of these areas. We have some hospital units in these areas but obviously in some parts of these areas some of the patients we are now taking to the hospitals and some we are taking to safe shelters.”

The quake has come at at time when Ecuador is reeling from low oil prices, and economic growth forecasts projected at near-zero in 2016.

The government has called it the worst quake in the country since 1979.

In that disaster, the US Geological Survey records that 600 people were killed and 20,000 injured.