The death toll from Ecuador’s major earthquake continues to rise. Ecuador’s attorney general said on Wednesday that 553 people were killed during the quake. The previous report put the number of dead at 525.
Another 4,065 people are injured and about 100 remain missing following Saturday evening’s magnitude-7.8 quake along the Pacific coast.
A fresh tremor rattled Ecuador before dawn on Wednesday, a magnitude-6.1 jolt that set babies crying and shaken residents pouring once again into the streets.
It was the strongest aftershock yet following Saturday’s quake. Some people in Portoviejo abandoned their homes, even those with no apparent damage, and headed through the night toward a former airport where temporary shelters have been set up.
Meanwhile, scenes of mourning multiplied all along Ecuador’s normally placid Pacific coastline as people began burying loved ones and hope faded that more survivors will be found. Funeral homes were running out of caskets, and local governments were paying to bring in coffins from other cities.
In the small town of Montecristi, near the port of Manta, two children were among those buried Tuesday. They were killed with their mother while buying school supplies when the big quake struck.
The funeral had to be held outside under a makeshift awning, because the town’s Roman Catholic church was damaged and unsafe. Family members wailed loudly and one man fainted as the children were laid to rest in an above-ground vault.
The final toll could surpass casualties from earthquakes in Chile and Peru in the past decade.
Among the survivors, the situation was growing increasingly tense. While humanitarian aid has been pouring in from around the world, distribution is slow. In Manta on Wednesday, residents waited for hours under the tropical midday sun for water and food supplies. The army kept control behind fenced barricades. Yet even as grief mounted, there were glimmers of hope.
In several cities, rescuers with sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks and special probes that can detect breathing from far away continued to search for survivors among the rubble. At least six were found in Manta early Tuesday.
One of the most hopeful tales was that of Pablo Cordova, who held out for 36 hours beneath the rubble of the hotel where he worked in Portoviejo, drinking his own urine and praying that cellphone service would be restored before his phone battery died. He was finally able to call his wife Monday afternoon and was pulled from the wreckage soon after by a team of rescuers from Colombia.
Cordova’s wife had given up on ever seeing him again and managed to buy a casket.
“They were organising the funeral, but I’ve been reborn,” Cordova said Tuesday, grinning from beneath his bushy mustache in a provincial hospital. “I will have to give that coffin back because I still have a long way to go before I die.”
Rescuers who have arrived from Mexico, Colombia, Spain and other nations said they would keep searching for survivors Wednesday, but cautioned that time was running out and the likelihood of finding more people alive grew smaller with the passage of every hour.
Even as authorities begin to shift their attention to restoring electricity and clearing debris, the earth continued to move. Local seismologists have recorded more than 400 aftershocks, some felt 105 miles (170 kilometers) away in the capital of Quito.