The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades has flattened buildings and buckled highways along the country's Pacific coast.
At least one U.S. citizen was among the casualties of the massive Ecuador earthquake, according to published reports.
State Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed to reporters that an American citizen, who has not been publicly identified, is among the dead. By Monday evening, the tally of those who died stood at 350, and that number was expected to continue rising.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake flattened villages along Ecuador’s Pacific coast.
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said the earthquake was the worst natural disaster to occur to his nation since a 1949 quake in the Andes killed more than 5,000 people, according to the Washington Post.
Correa added that rescue teams were having a difficult time reaching the areas hardest hit because of destroyed roads and landslides.
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement, “This is a heartbreaking tragedy that will challenge the people of Ecuador to their core. I extend my heartfelt thoughts to them and to the Ecuadorean-American diaspora, including the large community in New Jersey."
In recent years relations between the United States and Ecuador have been frosty, especially after a U.S. diplomatic cable was leaked in 2011 that suggested Correa, who has often been critical of U.S. policy, was turning a blind eye toward police corruption and the country's granting asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange the following year.
“I’ve called on the Obama Administration for a swift response, and I applaud [its] efforts so far,” the senator said. “It is my understanding that the United States has offered and Ecuador is preparing to accept U.S. disaster assistance … It is my hope that extending this offer is the first step in a new direction for U.S.-Ecuador government-to-government relations.”
That assistance includes $50,000 in immediate disaster assistance for search and rescue, humanitarian needs and an assessment of the most impacted regions. Ecuador also asked for help with potable water, hygienic supplies and sanitation goods.
The Director of USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) arrived in Ecuador yesterday and will be meeting with Ecuadorean officials, the senator’s office said.