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Powerful Earthquake Strikes Ecuador

The magnitude 7.8 temblor tumbled houses and left hundreds trapped under rubble. Continue reading →

Several hundred people were killed and thousands were injured when a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday.

Vice President Jorge Glas said the death toll will likely rise in what he called the "worst seismic movement we have faced in decades."

The quake, which struck at 2358 GMT Saturday about 170 km northwest of Quito, lasted about a minute and was felt across Ecuador, northern Peru and southern Colombia.

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"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," said Maria Torres, 60, in the capital Quito, which was rocked by the late Saturday quake.

"I couldn't walk... I wanted to run out into the street, but I couldn't."

Glas said early Sunday that the number of confirmed deaths has reached 77, and that more than 588 people were injured.

"We know that there are citizens trapped under rubble that need to be rescued," he said in a special TV and radio broadcast.

Officials declared a state of emergency in the six worst-hit provinces.

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Police, the military and the emergency services "are in a state of maximum alert to protect the lives of citizens," Glas said.

President Rafael Correa, on a visit to the Vatican, wrote on Twitter that he was immediately returning to Ecuador.

In the Pacific port city of Guayaquil, home to more than two million people, a bridge collapsed, crushing a car beneath it, and residents were picking through the wreckage of houses reduced to heaps of rubble and timber, an AFP photographer reported.

Ecuador's Geophysical Office reported "considerable" structural damage "in the area near the epicenter as well as points as far away as Guayaquil."

Earthquake zone The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the 7.8-magnitude shallow quake struck off the northwest shore of Ecuador, just 27 kilometers from the town of Muisne. The vice president gave a slightly lower measurement of magnitude 7.6.

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Ecuador lies near a shifting boundary between tectonic plates and has suffered seven earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher in the region of Tuesday's quake since 1900, the USGS said. One in March 1987 killed about 1,000 people, it said.

At least 55 smaller aftershocks rattled the country after the main quake, Glas said.

The Hawaii-based Pacific Tsunami Warning Center initially issued a warning for the nearby Pacific coastline but later said that the threat had largely passed.

David Rothery, a professor of geosciences at The Open University, said the quake's 7.8 magnitude meant that "shaking at its underground source was about 6 times stronger than in the magnitude 7.0 earthquake in southern Japan just over a day before."

"The total energy involved was probably about 20 times greater," he said, adding that there was no causal relationship between the two quakes.

The quake that hit Japan early Saturday left at least 41 dead.

Rothery said the Ecuador quake was caused by the floor of the Pacific Ocean being subducted under South America.

The rupture occurred deeper underground than the recent Japan quakes, which should have lessened the shaking at the surface, he said.

"The greater damage to buildings and the probable greater loss of life in Ecuador may reflect poorer adherence to seismic building codes in the construction of buildings and bridges," he said.

People walk by damaged buildings after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta, Ecuador.

The city of Hippos, as viewed from the Sussita mountain saddle ridge with its necropolis and the Sea of Galilee in the background. This is where a severe earthquake that rumbled more than 1,700 years ago. With its Greco-Roman temples, its large marketplace and colonnaded streets, Hippos would have been for Jesus the "city set upon a hill" that "cannot be hidden."

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Hippos, also called Sussita in Hebrew (both names mean "horse") became known in Roman times as one of the Decapolis, a group of ten cities in Jordan, Israel and Syria which were regarded as centers of Greek and Roman culture. Hippos was a powerful city-state, allowed to mint its own coins, which featured the emblem of a horse on one side. On this coin one can see Tyche, the city Goddess, holding the reins of a horse.

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The city was prospering and was almost entirely Christian when an earthquake violently struck its walls in 363 A.D. Evidence of the massive quake was unearthed as archaeologists found a number of skeletons crushed under a collapsed roof in the northern section of the Basilica, the largest structure in the city. Built at the end of the 1st century A.D. during the peak of Roman building in the city and the region, the basilica served as a marketplace and main seat of the judge.

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Among the bones of the people killed in the collapse, the archaeologists found the skeleton of a woman with a golden pendant in the shape of a dove.

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Under the debris of the 363 earthquake the archaeologists also found a large fragment of a Roman statue. A finely carved right leg of a muscular man leaning on a trunk is what remained. The team hopes to find additional parts in the quake debris that could help identify the statue.

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The excavation also exposed the Roman baths. Residents spent 20 years rebuilding the city after the 363 earthquake. However, it was another powerful quake, on Jan. 18, 749, that razed the city, leaving it covered by debris, never to be populated again.

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