FAIRFIELD, Conn., April 19, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Hundreds of children have reportedly been pulled out of the rubble alive by Ecuadorian authorities and local people, while thousands of families have slept out in the open to avoid the impact of further aftershocks in the wake of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck off the coast of Ecuador on the evening of April 16th.
"Rescue efforts have succeeded in saving the lives of many children who were trapped under the rubble in the immediate aftermath of the quake, with some families still searching through the debris for friends and relatives with their bare hands," says Maria Villalobos, Country Director for Save the Children Ecuador and Peru.
"There are still at least 200 people missing, including infants and the elderly, and we remain hugely concerned that emergency access to many areas remains difficult due to landslides, falling buildings, and unstable roads and power supplies."
Ecuador's worst earthquake since 1979 has resulted in 413 confirmed deaths so far, and left an estimated 3,000 injured, with an additional 3,000-5,000 people now in urgent need of emergency shelter assistance.
"Temporary camps are being set up as quickly as humanly possible but many families have spent the night outside in the open in a bid to avoid building collapse or falling wreckage, and we are still receiving numerous reports of children who can't find their parents or siblings."
At least 500 buildings have reportedly been destroyed across the affected provinces, with 146 schools severely affected, three universities closed, and a number of key health centers and hospitals reporting devastating damage, making treating the wounded increasingly problematic.
"The authorities have deployed mobile hospitals and rapid response units to the worst-affected cities, including the center of Portoviejo, Manabí, which has been completely destroyed. Currently, only 5 percent of the population has access to electricity and nine roads into the province have been completely blocked by debris," adds Villalobos.
"Obviously this is an extremely dangerous and chaotic environment for the most vulnerable, particularly unaccompanied children or those that are badly injured and trapped in isolated areas."
A state of national emergency is now in full force in Manabí, where more than 200 people died, as well as in Santa Elena, Esmeraldas, Guayas, Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, and Los Rios.
Alongside the Ecuadorian government and local authorities, Save the Children is working around the clock to help affected families, with particular focus on the northern part of the country, in Muisne, Esmeraldas Province.
"Muisne is already one of the poorest areas within Esmeraldas Province, with 98 percent of the population living below the poverty line and 80 percent living in rural areas. Now, close to 90 percent of infrastructure here has been critically damaged by the quake and aftershocks, leaving at least half of the population displaced and a high percentage of children considered to be at risk," says Villalobos.
"Schools are currently on vacation and are scheduled to reopen on May 1, depending on the damage that is reported in the next few days, so we will distribute 1,500 student kits to ensure that children have the materials to go back to school and restart their education as soon as possible.
"We will also be providing psychosocial support to children, as well as delivering 800 household kits which include emergency tents, food, electricity generators, and hygiene kits, and assessing the damage to existing water systems."
The widespread destruction of infrastructure will require the full resources of the government and emergency services, with some 10,000 troops and 3,500 police already present in the affected areas.
An 18-person United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has also been deployed to Pedernales to support coordination and initial assessments, including Roberto Martínez, Humanitarian Coordinator for Save the Children Spain.
"We know children are always the most vulnerable after any disaster," said Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children US. "Our priority is to make sure the children and families affected by this earthquake are safe, healthy, and able to regain a sense of normalcy as soon as possible."
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SOURCE Save the Children