Dramatic Rescue Amid Rubble Gives Ecuador Hope for Survivors

MANTA, Ecuador (AP) -
A resident gestures next to a collapsed building after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Monday. (Reuters/Henry Romero)
A resident gestures next to a collapsed building after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Monday. (Reuters/Henry Romero)

Rescuers in Ecuador pulled three people out alive on Monday after being trapped for more than 32 hours in the rubble of a shopping center that was flattened by this weekend’s powerful earthquake.

Media images of the dramatic pre-dawn rescue in this port city gave Ecuadoreans hope that some of the scores of people still unaccounted for may yet be found, even as the death toll from Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake, the worst to hit Ecuador in decades, climbed over 350. An American and two Canadians were among those confirmed dead.

To reach the survivors trapped between the floor and roof of the collapsed shopping center in Manta, firefighters cut a nearly 2.5-foot hole through concrete, then pulled a woman out head first. A group of firefighters applauded as she emerged from the debris, disoriented, caked in dust and complaining of pain but otherwise in good health.

Later, at the same site, a group of 50 rescuers working with sniffer dogs, hydraulic jacks and drill managed to free another woman and a young man. All three were rushed in ambulances to a nearby hospital. Authorities said another woman remained trapped and was being given water and other supplies while rescuers attempt to remove a heavy concrete slab pinning down her legs.

Christian Rivera, the head of emergency services for the capital, Quito, said that depending on the circumstances, a person without serious injuries can survive up to a week under the rubble.

“After that, there’s a quick decline … and the rescuers’ work becomes very difficult,” he said.

Still, there are good reasons to believe more people will be found alive in the coming hours as some 450 rescue workers from Spain, Peru, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela, and elsewhere reached the most-affected areas along the Pacific coast.

The U.S. has also offered assistance, but so far President Rafael Correa, a strong critic of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, has yet to respond publicly.