Death Toll in Ecuador Rises to 272 After 'Strongest Quake in Decades'

Thousands of armed forces personnel were dispatched to affected areas.

— -- The death toll in Ecuador has risen to 272, with more than 2,000 injured after Saturday's earthquake, president Rafael Correa confirmed Sunday evening. The number of dead is expected to rise "considerably" as crews continue removing bodies from the rubble, Correa said.

Correa characterized the quake as Ecuador's biggest tragedy in 67 years. He cited experts in saying the damage was small compared to what could have happened.

There have been no reports of U.S. citizens among the dead, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicole Thompson said today, adding that the department is still working to confirm reports of injured U.S. citizens.

Ecuador's National Police tweeted tonight that they had rescued a mother and daughter, identified as María Sigilema, 37, and Evelin Bone, 7, from the rubble in Pedernales.

Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the quake's epicenter, pleaded for officials to send earth-moving machines and emergency rescue workers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, trapping residents among the rubble.

"We're trying to do the most we can but there's almost nothing we can do," Alcivar told The Associated Press. "This wasn't just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town."

Ecuador's Risk Management agency said 3,500 national police and 500 firefighters had been sent to several towns. Five shelters had been set up for those evacuated from their homes.

Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas called the seismic event "the strongest quake we have faced in decades," adding it was the strongest quake registered in the country since 1979. The nation's armed forces and police were mobilized to keep public order, he said.

At a news conference Sunday, Glas said mobile operators opened free text messaging in the afflicted provinces of Manabi and Esmeraldas.

There was also a precursor quake of magnitude-4.8 11 minutes before the 7.8 earthquake.