Ecuador earthquake: State of emergency declared after at least 238 killed

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Powerful Earthquake Rattles Ecuador

The death toll from a powerful earthquake that shook Ecuador's northwestern coast soared to 238 Sunday and hundreds more were wounded, the nation's president said.

Ecuador was in a state of emergency Sunday after the magnitude-7.8 earthquake flattened buildings and ravaged towns Saturday just before 7 p.m. local time (8 p.m. ET).

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"Thank you to the whole world for solidarity," President Rafael Correa said on Twitter.

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

"The immediate priority is to rescue people in the rubble," he later said. "Everything can be rebuilt, but lives cannot be recovered, and that's what hurts the most."

More than 1,550 people were injured in the quake, according to a statement from the government. At least 370 buildings were destroyed and another 151 buildings and 26 schools were affected by the quake, the statement said.

RELATED: Images from the unfolding scene:

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Ecuador earthquake: State of emergency declared after at least 238 killed
EL CARMEN, ECUADOR - APRIL 17: People try to recover what was left of their homes after an earthquake struck Ecuador on April 17, 2016 in El Carmen, Ecuador. At least 235 people were killed after a 7.8-magnitude queake. (Photo by Edu Leon/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Police officers stand on debris after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja
Images taken on April 17, 2016 of survivors of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake in the city of Manta in Ecuador's Manabi province, which was partially destroyed the day before. At least 235 people were killed by the powerful earthquake that destroyed buildings and a bridge in Ecuador and sent terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / ARIEL OCHOA (Photo credit should read ARIEL OCHOA/AFP/Getty Images)
An elderly woman inside her partially destroyed home on April 17, 2016 in the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, which was hit the day before by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. At least 233 people have been killed in the quake that struck Ecuador's Pacific coast, President Rafael Correa said Sunday. / AFP / MARCOS PIN MENDEZ (Photo credit should read MARCOS PIN MENDEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
With the help of trained dogs, rescue workers in the city of Manta in Manabi province search on April 17, 2016 through the rubble for survivors of the 7.8-magnitude quake that hit Ecuador on Saturday. At least 235 people were killed by the powerful earthquake that destroyed buildings and a bridge and sent terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / ARIEL OCHOA (Photo credit should read ARIEL OCHOA/AFP/Getty Images)
Local residents and rescue workers in the city of Manta in Manabi province search on April 17, 2016 through the rubble for survivors of the 7.8-magnitude quake that hit Ecuador on Saturday. At least 235 people were killed by the powerful earthquake that destroyed buildings and a bridge and sent terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / ARIEL OCHOA (Photo credit should read ARIEL OCHOA/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers search the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Gauyaquil, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / LUIS ACOSTA (Photo credit should read LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers search for victims under the rubble in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 17, 2016. Rescuers in Ecuador raced to dig out victims trapped under the rubble of homes and hotels on Sunday after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 246. / AFP / RODRIGO BUENDIA / ALTERNATIVE CROP (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
View of a vehicle squashed by rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers carry a body they pulled from the rubble, in Pedernales, Ecuador, Sunday, April 17, 2016. A magnitude-7.8 quake, the strongest since 1979, hit Ecuador flattening buildings, buckling highways along its Pacific coast and killing hundreds. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa) (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
A rescuer pulls a victim out from the rubble in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 17, 2016. Rescuers in Ecuador raced to dig out victims trapped under the rubble of homes and hotels on Sunday after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 246. / AFP / RODRIGO BUENDIA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image taken on April 17, 2016 of a survivor of the 7.8-magnitude quake that hit the city of Pedernales, Ecuador the day before. At least 233 people have been killed in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador's Pacific coast, President Rafael Correa said Sunday. / AFP / RODRIGO BUENDIA (Photo credit should read RODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images)
People are seen amidst rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Police officers search through debris after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja
A person takes pictures of a damaged building after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja
People walk by damaged buildings after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja
Red Cross members, military and police officers work at a collapsed area after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Red Cross members arrive at Eloy Alfaro airport after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast, in Manta April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Guillermo Granja
People gather next to a collapsed house in Guayaquil on April 17, 2016. At least 41 people have been killed by the powerful earthquake that struck western Ecuador on Saturday and the toll will likely rise further, the country's Vice President Jorge Glas said. / AFP / JOSE SANCHEZ L (Photo credit should read JOSE SANCHEZ L/AFP/Getty Images)
View of rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - View of a fallen building after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
View of a damaged building after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP / JUAN CEVALLOS (Photo credit should read JUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Vehicles from a car dealership hang on a precipice caused by an earthquake induced landslide in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Sunday, April 17, 2016. The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades flattened buildings and buckled highways along its Pacific coast, sending the Andean nation into a state of emergency. (AP Photo/Juan Fernando Molina)
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Authorities said landslides were making it difficult for emergency workers to reach the towns hardest hit by the earthquake.

"We're trying to do the most we can, but there's almost nothing we can do," said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the quake's epicenter, according to The Associated Press.

Alcivar pleaded for authorities to send earth-moving machines and emergency rescue workers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, trapping residents among the rubble. He said looting had broken out amid the chaos but authorities were too busy trying to save lives to re-establish order.

"This wasn't just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town," he said.

The country's Geophysics Institute in a bulletin described "considerable damage" in the area of the epicenter and in Guayaquil.

Video posted online showed damage to a shopping mall in Portoviejo and people crowded in the street outside as alarms rang. A hotel in Manta partially collapsed and was left barely standing, and buildings were shaken to the ground in Guayaquil.

"I was in my house watching a movie and everything started to shake. I ran out into the street and now I don't know what's going to happen," Lorena Cazares, 36, a telecommunications worker in Quito, told Reuters.

NOAA's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves up to 3 feet above tide level were possible for some coastal areas of Ecuador, but later said the threat had largely passed. Ecuadorians who were told to evacuate coastal areas for fear of a tsunami were later told to return home.

A smaller 4.5 magnitude quake was recorded along the coast south of Muisne about a half-hour before the magnitude-7.8 quake struck, the USGS said. At least 135 aftershocks have followed, one as strong as a magnitude-6, and authorities urged residents to brace for even stronger ones in the coming hours and days.

Video posted online showed damage to a shopping mall in Portoviejo and people crowded in the street outside as alarms rang. A hotel in Manta partially collapsed and was left barely standing, and buildings were shaken to the ground in Guayaquil.

"I was in my house watching a movie and everything started to shake. I ran out into the street and now I don't know what's going to happen," Lorena Cazares, 36, a telecommunications worker in Quito, told Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry offered condolences and said the U.S. was ready to assist Ecuador.

The U.S. State Department said there were no reports of U.S. citizens killed in the quake, while Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said two Canadians were killed.

The earthquake in Ecuador comes just days after the first of a pair of powerful and deadly quakes shook southwestern Japan. At least 41 people were killed in a magnitude-6.5 earthquake Thursday and a magnitude-7.0 earthquake Saturday, national broadcaster NHK reported.

David Rothery, a professor of planetary geosciences at The Open University, northeast of London, says the total energy released by the magnitude-7.8 quake Saturday in Ecuador was "probably about 20 times greater" than the magnitude-7.0 quake in Japan on Saturday.

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