Residents of the hard-hit town of Pedernales comfort each other after an earthquake killed hundreds in Ecuador. (Jose Jacome/European Pressphoto Agency)

As darkness fell Sunday on the seaside town of Pedernales, the epicenter of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed at least 246 people, residents gathered outside a soccer stadium, hoping for supplies and news.

Some, huddling silently and teary-eyed at one entrance, had come to identify the bodies of missing loved ones.

Others, jockeying for a place in long lines for water and food, told stories of close calls.

“It was only after the earthquake finished that we could get out of the house,” said Angelica Valencia, 30, clutching a gallon of water and surrounded by her three young children. “It was terrifying, and now we’re sleeping on the street.”

Pedernales, a sleepy tourist town of pastel-colored cement houses, was shaken Saturday evening by the quake, which injured more than 2,000 people.

Residents and army forces look for survivors in Pedernales, Ecuador. (Jose Jacome/European Pressphoto Agency)

President Rafael Correa, who rushed back from a visit to Italy, said that finding survivors was the main priority.

“The whole country is mobilizing,” he said on Twitter, adding that Pedernales was “destroyed.”

The death toll here has reached at least 91, most of whom have been identified, police Gen. Milton Zarate said. Bodies, some covered by black tarps, were arranged under tents in one corner of the stadium.

About 600 people were treated at clinics and a pop-up first aid station in the stadium, the Ecuadoran Red Cross said.

Rescue operations would continue through the night, officials said, as long as intermittent rain did not make conditions too treacherous for rescue teams.

Many residents, fearful of aftershocks, said that they planned to sleep outside. The interiors of some houses were fully visible, their outside walls knocked away but their foundations left standing.

Some of the 1,100 police officers brought into the area were packed into pickup beds as night fell, deploying to points around the city to protect residents sleeping outdoors without electricity.


“You can still hear people calling for help — we can’t get to them,” said Luis Flores, 41. “What can we do?”

The quake, the country’s worst in decades, collapsed buildings and buckled roads along the Pacific Coast. A state of emergency was declared in six provinces.

“Everything can be rebuilt, but lives cannot be recovered, and that’s what hurts the most,” Correa said on state radio.

Several major roadways remained closed Sunday because of damage and concerns about possible landslides. Others were closed at sunset.

Local radio stations urged calm, while photos posted on social media showed roads broken into pieces.

Schools in the worst-hit provinces will not hold classes until further notice. The Esmeraldas oil refinery, key to the oil producer’s economy, halted output after the quake.

A bridge in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, collapsed after the quake. Other bridges across the country were undergoing safety checks.

About $300 million was available for relief efforts, the government said.

Residents who were evacuated from coastal towns because of fears of a tsunami would be allowed to return to their homes, said Vice President Jorge Glas, who visited disaster sites Sunday.

“No Ecuadoran is alone,” Glas tweeted. “We will come out of this emergency stronger.”

Residents should not enter areas with rubble to gather possessions, the vice president told journalists in a news conference.

The attorney general’s office will oversee the return of victims’ bodies to their families, the national police said.