QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Juan Vera lost three relatives when a powerful earthquake that shook parts of Ecuador and Peru on Saturday destroyed his niece’s home. The government has offered to pay for the burial of the woman, her child and her partner, but Vera wonders why the local authorities allowed his relatives to live in such an old house.
“Because of its age, this building should have been demolished,” Vera said outside a morgue in the Ecuadorian community of Machala, where he waited for the three bodies to be released. “… I’m sorry, City Hall is the entity that has to regulate these things through their planning departments so that buildings are in good condition for rental or occupancy.”
The 6.8-magnitude quake killed at least 15 people, injured hundreds and destroyed homes and buildings in communities ranging from the coast to the highlands, according to the US Geological Survey. But in Ecuador, regardless of geographic location, many of the houses that collapsed had many things in common: They were poor, old, and did not meet building standards in the earthquake-prone country.
The earthquake struck near the Pacific coast, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second-largest city. One of the victims died in Peru, and 14 others died in Ecuador, where authorities also reported that at least 381 people were injured and dozens of homes, schools and medical centers were damaged.
The administration of Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso said 12 victims were killed in the coastal state of El Oro and two in the highland state of Asuai.
One of the victims in Azua was a passenger in a car that crashed into a house in the Andean community of Cuenca, according to the Secretariat for Risk Management, Ecuador’s emergency management agency.
In El Oro, the agency also reported that several people were trapped under the rubble. In the village of Machala, a two-story house collapsed before people could evacuate, the pier gave way, and the walls of the building cracked, trapping an unknown number of people.
Architect from Quito, Herman Narvaez, said that during the earthquakes, houses with defective construction and without foundation, structure and technical design were the most affected. He added that the houses are also old and built with materials such as adobe, which was once commonly used in Andean communities.
“At critical moments of seismic movements, they tend to collapse,” he said.
Ecuador is particularly prone to earthquakes. In 2016, an earthquake centered further north on the Pacific coast in a more sparsely populated area of the country killed more than 600 people.
In Peru, the earthquake was felt from its northern border with Ecuador to the central Pacific coast. Peru’s Prime Minister Alberto Atarola said a 4-year-old girl died of head injuries she suffered when her home collapsed in the Tumbes region, on the border with Ecuador.
Peruvian authorities also reported that four houses were destroyed and the old walls of an army barracks collapsed in Tumbes.
Saturday’s earthquake destroyed Dolores Vaca’s house in Machala. The moment she felt the first push, she said, she ran outside, and her husband managed to pull her daughter out. Then “everything fell apart, the house flattened, everything was gone,” she said.
Vaca’s neighbors were not so lucky. She said five people died when the house next to hers collapsed.
In Guayaquil, about 170 miles (270 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Quito, authorities reported cracks in buildings and houses and collapsed walls. Videos shared on social media showed people gathering on the streets of Guayaquil, a metro hub of more than 3 million people, and nearby communities.
One video posted online showed the three presenters throwing a dart from the studio table as the set shook. At first they tried to reset it due to a minor earthquake, but soon escaped from the cell. One host indicated the show would be suspended, while another repeated: “Oh my God, oh my God.”
A report from Ecuador’s Adverse Events Monitoring Office ruled out a tsunami threat.
Machala student Kathryn Cruz said her house shook so badly she couldn’t even get up to leave her room and run outside.
“It was terrible. I have never felt anything like this in my life,” she said. ___
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela. Associated Press writer Franklin Briceño in Lima, Peru contributed to this report.