Ecuador Earthquake: Aid Pours in as Rescuers Rush to Find More Victims

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(CNN) — Thousands of Ecuadorians awoke Monday from a second night sleeping outside or in temporary shelters following a weekend earthquake that killed at least 272 people and collapsed overpasses and buildings.

“What am I going to do?” asked Nely Intriago, standing in front of the rubble of a home. “Cry, that’s what. Now we are on the street with nothing.”

With the death toll expected to rise — at least 2,527 people were hurt and others are missing — Ecuadorian rescuers searched for more victims of Saturday’s quake, which struck 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The first hours are crucial,” President Rafael Correa said Sunday night. “We’re finding signs of life in the rubble. We’re giving this priority. After, we’ll work to find and recover bodies.”

Ecuador deployed 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers to the affected areas. Troops set up mobile hospitals and temporary shelters. The military also brought in search dogs to help find survivors and bodies.

Mexico, Spain, Colombia, Chile, Venezuela, Peru and other countries sent rescuers and aid. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was prepared help “in any way we can.”

The hardest-hit area of the South American nation was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died, said Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador’s national emergency management office. The cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Pedernales, a tourist destination, saw the most devastation but damage was widespread throughout the country.

Videos showed rescuers pulling a young girl underneath the rubble of the Hotel Miami in the province of Manabi, finally getting her out and taking her away on a stretcher.

Getting supplies and rescue crews to the affected areas has been a challenge.

“The lack of water and communication remains a big problem,” Peñaherrera told CNN en Español. “Many highways are in bad shape, especially in the mountainous area because it has been raining recently due to (the) El Niño weather phenomenon.”

Correa arrived in the city of Portoviejo on Sunday night after cutting short his visit to a Vatican conference.

“I have infinite gratitude to the spirit of the Ecuadorian people, of our firefighters, our soldiers, our policemen and all workers who haven’t slept, haven’t eaten as they work hard to save lives,” he said after arriving.

The President’s official Twitter account used a hashtag that translated to “Ecuador ready and in solidarity” and showed him at one of the disaster sites.

The earthquake hit Saturday around 7 p.m. in this country of 15 million people, buckling overpasses and trapping drivers. A shopping mall partially collapsed on customers and several buildings were flattened, their contents spilling out into the streets.

Video from a store in Guayaquil showed kitchen utensils swinging back and forth as some items tumbled off shelves.

“It was the worst experience of my life,” survivor Jose Meregildo said Sunday about the tremors that violently shook his house in Guayaquil, 300 miles away from the quake’s epicenter. “Everybody in my neighborhood was screaming, saying it was going to be the end of the world.”

All six coastal provinces — Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos — are under states of emergency.

Ecuador’s Interior Ministry ordered all nightlife venues in affected areas closed temporarily, and the nation’s soccer federation suspended the Ecuadorian championship tournament.

The earthquake was the deadliest to hit the nation since March 1987, when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.

On Sunday, Pope Francis asked for prayers for those affected by the earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan.

“Last night a violent earthquake hit Ecuador, causing numerous victims and great damages,” Francis said. “Let’s pray for those populations, and for those of Japan, where as well there has been some earthquakes in the last days.”

Japan was hit with a series of earthquakes last week that killed dozens.