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Saturday, April 23, 2016, 13:13

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

By China
Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

Victims of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake line up to get emergency food and clothing from an army truck in Cholote, Ecuador on April 21, 2016. The victims walked 45 minutes to make it to the collection point arranged by Ecuador’s armed forces. President Rafael Correa said Ecuador's worst earthquake in decades caused billions of dollars of damage and he is raising sales taxes and putting a one-time levy on millionaires to help pay for reconstruction. (Photo / Dolores Ochoa, AP)

QUITO - The death count from Ecuador's worst earthquake in a decade rose to at least 602 on Friday even as the country faced another grim toll: a long and costly reconstruction effort likely to cost billions of dollars.

The latest figure also register 12,492 wounded, 130 missing, 26, 091 people in shelters, 113 people rescued alive, 6,998 destroyed buildings, and 2,740 damaged buildings.

China's government and private sector have provided much-needed humanitarian aid and donations to Ecuador's post-earthquake relief efforts.

The Chinese government on Thursday handed over $2 million and 10 truck-full of aid to Ecuador to help the South American country's recovery from a powerful 7.8-magnitude quake that devastated parts of the coast late Saturday.

China's ambassador to Ecuador, Wang Yulin, presented the aid to Ecuadorian Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long at a ceremony at the ministry's headquarters in the capital Quito.

The trucks, loaded with supplies of food and water, and cots and tents for temporary shelters housing those left homeless, were dispatched Thursday to the affected areas.

Included in the aid package was a mobile emergency-care facility to attend to the victims.

"On behalf of the people and government of Ecuador, we thank China for this contribution to our country," said Long.

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

Women and children wait in a line for over an hour for free food and water from the government, days after an earthquake in Crucita, Ecuador on April 21, 2016. The damage from the 7.8-magnitude quake adds to already heavy economic hardships being felt in this OPEC nation triggered by the collapse in world oil prices. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

"China has been one of the countries that most quickly responded to the emergency in Ecuador," Long added.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa announced Wednesday night that he would raise sales taxes and put a one-time levy on millionaires to help pay for reconstruction.

The damage from the 7.8-magnitude quake adds to already heavy economic hardships being felt in this OPEC nation because of the collapse in world oil prices. Even before the quake, Ecuador was bracing for a bout of austerity, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting the economy would shrink 4.5 percent this year.

In a televised address Wednesday night, Correa warned the nation of a long and costly post-quake recovery and said the economic pain shouldn't fall only on hard-hit communities along the coast.

"I know we're at the most-difficult stage right now but it's just the beginning," he said.

Rescuers continued to comb through the rubble in coastal towns hit hardest by the quake, but the clock was running down for finding survivors. Rescue workers have said a person without serious injuries can survive up to a week buried in debris in the Ecuadorian heat.

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

Residents line up for over an hour for free food and water from the government, days after an earthquake in Crucita, Ecuador on April 21, 2016. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

Detsy Torres, 30, argues with a police officer as tensions rise among residents waiting for over an hour for free food and water from the government, days after an earthquake in Crucita, Ecuador on April 21, 2016. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

A man carries twisted metal away from a post-earthquake debris field in Manta, Ecuador on April 21, 2016. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

On Thursday, Jorge Zambrano, mayor of the community of Manta, announced that three people had been pulled from beneath a collapsed building the night before and vowed to continue searching.

"I still have hope we can find more people who are still alive beneath the rubble," he said. "If we have even a hope of life, we must work with extreme care."

Rescuers also found a more unusual survivor: A flapping white-and-brown duck was pulled from under a pile of rubble, becoming a social media celebrity in a country eager for good news.

Using authority granted by the state of emergency he declared after Saturday night's quake, Correa said sales taxes would increase from 12 percent to 14 percent for the coming year.

People with more than US$1 million in assets will be charged a one-time tax of 0.9 percent on their wealth, while workers earning over US$1,000 a month will be forced to contribute a day's wages and those earning US$5,000 a month the equivalent of five days' pay.

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

People sleep outside after searching all night for recyclable items on a field where earthquake debris is being placed in Manta, Ecuador on April 21, 2016. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

Residents comb through a post-earthquake debris field to salvage recyclable materials, in Manta, Ecuador on April 20, 2016. Ecuadoreans began burying loved ones felled by the country's deadliest earthquake in decades, while hopes faded that more survivors will be found. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

Ecuador quake death toll rises to 602

Residents comb through a post-earthquake debris field to salvage recyclable material as a dump truck unloads its cargo, in Manta, Ecuador on April 20, 2016. (Photo / Rodrigo Abd, AP)

Taxes on companies will also go up, and Correa said he will look to sell certain state assets that he didn't specify. He is also drawing on US$600 million in emergency credits from the World Bank and other multilateral lenders.

Unlike the deadly earthquake that ravaged Chile in 2010, when commodity prices were at a high and most of South America was booming, Ecuador must rebuild with prices of oil, the lifeblood of its economy, near a decade low. Manufacturing is also suffering because the economy is dollarized, depriving companies in Ecuador of the same jolt the rest of South America has experienced from devalued currencies.

The tax hikes come as the scale of devastation continues to sink in. A helicopter flyover of the damage zone Wednesday showed entire city blocks in ruins as if they had been bombed.

While humanitarian aid has been pouring in from around the world, distribution is slow. People have had to wait for hours under the tropical sun for aid packages that include water, cans of tuna and diapers. Soldiers keep control with fenced barricades. Some people waiting Thursday in Manta had spent 10 hours in line the previous day only to come away empty handed.

"I've lost my house and I'm living on the street. The same goes for these other women," said Sandra Alvia, 37. "We have no water, no power and nothing to eat. We've lost everything."

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