LATIN AMERICA

Confusion reigns over number of missing after Ecuador earthquake

Official numbers contradict reports by relatives, as citizens turn to social networks to locate loved ones

Residents of Pedernales, the epicenter of the quake, the morning after.
Residents of Pedernales, the epicenter of the quake, the morning after.AP

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Ecuador’s authorities say 130 people are still missing 10 days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the country, although reports by victims’ families on social media indicate the number could be much higher. People Locator, a website endorsed by the Interior Ministry, lists 2,200 unsolved cases. This figure is an estimate, says the site’s developer Esteban Mendieta. “There are duplicate entries and some have not been updated, even though relatives have found the missing person,” he says, adding that staff at the country’s missing persons registry are also combing through the data.

Daily ‘El Telégrafo’ has created an app where people have uploaded information to help identify the missing

Medical student Marcos Menéndez is one of hundreds of missing people listed on the ministry’s website. Classmate Emilia Moreira says Menéndez went to Jama to spend a few days with family, but since then she has heard nothing from him. “He hasn’t checked in and a few people on Facebook say they saw him at a shelter, but they are not giving us any more information. We are going to Jama this week to look for him.”

Several media outlets have joined the search for the missing in Ecuador. Daily El Telégrafo has created an app where more than 50 people have already uploaded a photo and information to help identify people who have not yet been located.

Eugenio Véliz’s relatives reported him missing on El Telégrafo’s app but are still waiting for an update. They know only that he was in Pedernales, the coastal town close to the epicenter of the quake, and that he then traveled to the interior. His family lives in the small community of Riobamba and have not been able to travel to the coast to look for him due to work commitments. “Some of our cousins say he was not near the epicenter and they believe he is alright,” one nephew says.

Social Media

Family and friends are using the hashtag #DesaparecidosEC or #MissingEC to report missing loved ones via social media. The authorities have asked users to update the status of those recovered using the hashtag #EncontradosEC or #FoundEC to avoid confusion.

One tragic case that has been widely reported is that of a family of four who traveled the 450 kilometers from Quito to Pedernales for a weekend break. Their last Facebook update was a picture of them at the seaside town. They were later found under debris on the second floor of the hotel where they had been staying.

Google has also offered its help via its Google Person Finder app, which already has 3,200 entries. It is linked to the Interior Ministry’s website and will remain active for the next three weeks.

Meanwhile, police officers on the ground are looking for missing persons reported by friends and relatives. Authorities have resolved all except three of the 97 cases they received in Pedernales. Only four of the 20 rescue teams that joined the search in Pedernales remain on the ground. Police in the nearby town of Manta are still searching for 14 people.

According to their respective embassies, 16 Argentineans, 97 Colombians and six Cubans are missing. Even as rescue operations continue to search for victims and recover the bodies of the deceased, the government is shifting its resources to cleanup efforts.

English version by Dyane Jean François. 

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