LATIN AMERICA

Days after Ecuador quake, hard-hit town still waiting for material aid

The lack of equipment in Pedernales is in contrast with the hundreds of volunteers who came to help

Survivors of Saturday's earthquake stand amid the ruins of their homes.
Survivors of Saturday's earthquake stand amid the ruins of their homes.Edu Leon (EL PAÍS)
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Pedernales, rescates llenos de promesas

Three days after a powerful earthquake killed more than 400 people and left at least 3,000 injured in Ecuador, a quiet seaside town close to the epicenter in the north of the Andean country is still struggling to cope.

Government promises of tents for the homeless, medical equipment, body bags, portable toilets, lighting, food and water have yet to materialize, says the mayor of Pedernales, Gabriel Alcívar.

Vice-President Jorge Glas had promised to send a mobile hospital with its own operating room, but in the end it was dispatched to Chone, a larger community some 90 kilometers to the south.

Many hotels along the sea front have yet to be inspected

The lack of equipment and material is in contrast with the hundreds of people who have volunteered to help in Pedernales following the 7.8 magnitude quake felt on Saturday.

Firefighters are putting in long hours, searching for survivors while bulldozers alongside them remove the huge piles of twisted metal and rubble. Miguel Egas of the National Directorate of Missing People admits to the dangers of the methods being used, but notes that time is running out: “It’s risky, but necessary. That’s why the rescue teams are there, to reduce the risk.”

On Monday, rescuers were focusing on the main tourist hotels in downtown Pedernales, although many more are located along the sea front and have yet to be inspected. “There is a transient population there, and nobody is looking for them,” said Egas, explaining that most of the hotels lost their lobbies while the rest of the floors collapsed in a stack.

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Rescue teams are now trying to reach rural areas around Pedernales, where they say hundreds of people are still waiting to be rescued and where there is a shortage of food and water.

Meanwhile, around 320 overseas volunteers have arrived in the area, but there is no information as to how many will be sent to Pedernales. The Education Ministry has sent a team of psychologists to the town to work at the four makeshift shelters, as well as with people still living in the open for fear of further tremors.

Volunteers are sleeping out in the main square, ready to lend a hand. So far their main task has been to keep firefighters supplied with drinking water and food. One family of six said they had traveled three hours from the central mountain town of Santo Domingo to help.

“The rescue teams also need help,” said the father, carrying a large container of water toward a group of firefighters.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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