The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades flattened buildings and buckled highways along its Pacific coast, sending the Andean nation into a state of emergency. As rescue workers rushed in, officials said the damage stretched for hundreds of miles. The magnitude-7.8 quake was centered on Ecuador's sparsely populated fishing ports and tourist beaches. Vice President Jorge Glas later that at least 235 were confirmed dead, with another 1,557 injured, reports the AP. He said there were deaths in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo, and Guayaquil—all several hundred miles from where the quake struck shortly after nightfall. He said the quake was the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979 and accessing the disaster zone was difficult due to landslides. "We're trying to do the most we can, but there's almost nothing we can do," said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the epicenter.
Alcivar pleaded for earth-moving machines and rescue workers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, trapping residents among the rubble. He said looting had broken out but authorities were too busy trying to save lives to re-establish order, reports the AP. "This wasn't just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town," he said. President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency and rushed home from a visit to Rome. Ecuador's Risk Management agency said 10,000 armed forces had been deployed. The USGS originally put the quake at a magnitude of 7.4 then raised it to 7.8. It had a depth of 12 miles. At least 36 aftershocks followed, one as strong as 6 on the Richter scale, and authorities urged residents to brace for even stronger ones in the coming hours and days. (Read more Ecuador stories.)