CANOAS, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuadoreans were sleeping outside and struggling to find food and water on Friday in the wake of aftershocks that are continuing to rock coastal towns that were flattened by last weekend's powerful earthquake.
Ecuador's worst earthquake in a decade destroyed virtually all of the simple one- and two-story buildings making up the beach town of Canoas on April 16. Residents sleeping in makeshift shelters said they were praying that it didn't rain.
A magnitude-6.0 quake struck off the coast late Thursday, followed by more shaking that sent people running from the structures that remained half-standing after the initial quake. Local television stations showed people crying in fear and President Rafael Correa reminded residents that aftershocks were to be expected, and urged them to stay calm and strong.
In Canoas, 98 percent of buildings were destroyed during the original magnitude-7.8 quake, according to army Col. Jose Nunez.
The palm tree-lined beach towns along Ecuador's coast are usually bustling with tourists who come from all over the world to take in the tropical beauty. But this week, they were filled with grim-faced residents waiting for water and food, sometimes going away empty handed after hours in the sun. Like the aid workers and rescuers, residents were wearing masks against the dust and the stench in the air.
Mercedes Murillo folded clothes Thursday in a makeshift shelter on a Canoas soccer field where she is living with 50 other families.
"It's so hard, especially with the children, with all this dust, and sleeping outside. We're thanking God that it's not raining," she said as she struggled to hold back tears.
Local media reported that some tourists staying near Canoas had come to the village to help.
Rescuers continued to comb through rubble on streets that looked at if they had been bombed, but time was out for finding survivors. Aid workers have said there are plenty of supplies from countries flying in aid, but they warned of delays in water distribution and said mosquito-borne illness could spread through the camps.
The death count rose to at least 587 on Thursday night. Officials listed 155 people as missing and the number of people left homeless climbed to over 23,500. The final total could surpass the death count from Peru's 2007 earthquake and make this the deadliest quake in South America since a 1999 tragedy in Armenia, Colombia that killed more than 1,000 people.
Correa has said the earthquake caused $3 billion in damage, and warned that the reconstruction effort will take years. His socialist administration is temporarily raising taxes to fund the recovery.
The damage has added to the already heavy economic hardships being felt in this OPEC nation because of a 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.
Associated Press writer Hannah Dreier in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.