Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades kills 77

Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades kills 77

At least 77 people have been killed in Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades.

The 7.8 magnitude tremor struck off the Pacific coast causing damage near the epicenter as well as in the largest city of Guayaquil.

President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency and urged the Andean nation's 16 million people to stay calm.

"Our infinite love to the families of the dead," he said on Twitter, while cutting short a trip to Italy to return home.

Authorities urged people to evacuate coastal areas for fear of rising tides.

Alarmed residents streamed into the streets of the highland capital Quito, hundreds of kilometres away, and other towns across the nation.

The government said the death toll would likely rise and damages were "serious", especially in the western coastal areas nearest the quake and in Guayaquil.

"Unfortunately, up to the moment there are 41 citizens who have lost their lives," said Vice President Jorge Glas, noting that it was the strongest quake to hit Ecuador since 1979.

The quake struck early evening at a depth of 20km and was felt all around the country.

"There are villages that are totally devastated," said Gabriel Alcvar, mayor of the city of Pedernales in the hard-hit province of Manabi, in a radio interview.

"What happened here in Pedernales is catastrophic," he added.

Parts of the capital were without power or telephone service, with many communicating only via WhatsApp. Photos on social media showed cracks in the walls of shopping centres.

The capital's municipal government later said power had been restored and there were no reports of casualties in the city.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 metre above tide level were possible for some coastal areas of Ecuador.