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Ecuadorian community in U.S. rallying to support earthquake victims

Members of New York City's Ecuadorian community gather for a candlelight vigil outside of St. Leo's Church in the Corona section of Queens.

Members of New York City's Ecuadorian community gather for a candlelight vigil outside of St. Leo's Church in the Corona section of Queens.  (Photo: Meghan Tadio)

As the sky grew dark on Wednesday night, a crowd gathered outside St. Leo’s Church in the Corona section of Queens, N.Y.

Dozens clutched burning candles and spoke in Spanish in hushed tones of loved ones in Ecuador affected by the massive earthquake that struck the South American nation over the weekend, leaving at least 570 people dead and thousands more homeless.

“This is a time of prayer and healing and a time to come together and to help the people back home,” Francisco Moya, a New York State assemblyman of Ecuadorian descent, told Fox News Latino.

The earthquake, a 7.8 magnitude tremor that wreaked havoc on the port cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil, has left Ecuadorian officials scrambling to keep up with the search-and-rescue operations as foreign aid begins to trickle in.

There are about 645,000 Ecuadorians living in the U.S. – they are the 10th-largest population of Hispanics in the country, accounting for 1.2 percent of the U.S. Latino population, according to Pew Research Center.

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In the New York City metropolitan area, home to the highest concentration of Ecuadorian immigrants and people of Ecuadorian-descent in the United States, the community is rallying around the cause and coordinating relief efforts to be sent to Ecuador.

The Ecuadorian Consulate in New York has posted a list of 27 locations across the state where they are asking people to drop of anything from cardboard boxes and paper towels to bottled water and sleeping tents.

“We’re a small community but we have a big heart,” Moya said. “We’re working on multiple levels…The outpouring of support has been so overwhelming her in New York City.”

In the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, union members from Local 78 – a collection of asbestos and hazardous materials workers of which one-third are Ecuadorian descent – have opened up their hall to donations and say their storage area is filling up with supplies. A bank account has also been set up to collect monetary donations. About $15,000 was collected in less than 24 hours.

“We have a room that is filling up fast, but what I want to see is more,” Edison Severino, a local 78 worker told FNL.

Severino said the union is hoping that by Sunday it will acquire at least 600 tents to distribute to Ecuadorians displaced in the aftermath of the earthquake. Several members will be leaving for Ecuador at the end of the week do relief work, he said.

“We have a large Ecuadorian population in the local,” Severino said. “The earthquake has really hit home for a lot of our members.”

Apart from the relief from the New York area’s large Ecuadorian population, humanitarian organizations from around the globe have promised to aid the quake-ravaged country. The World Food Programme has sent enough food to feed 8,000 of the most severely affected people, while the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said it is shipping down shelter and mosquito nets in an airlift.

Oxfam also sent its first shipment of material providing safe drinking water on Wednesday and the Red Cross has been working on the ground and collecting donations for relief.

While humanitarian aid has been pouring in from around the world, distribution is slow. In Manta on Wednesday, residents waited for hours under the tropical midday sun for water and food supplies. The army kept control behind fenced barricade.

Rescuers who have arrived from Mexico, Colombia, Spain and other nations said they would keep searching for survivors Wednesday, but cautioned that time was running out and the likelihood of finding more people alive grew smaller with the passage of every hour.

Even as authorities begin to shift their attention to restoring electricity and clearing debris, the earth continued to move. Local seismologists have recorded more than 400 aftershocks, some felt 105 miles (170 kilometers) away in the capital of Quito.

Saturday's earthquake destroyed or damaged about 1,500 buildings, triggered mudslides and left some 23,000 people homeless, the government said. It was the worst temblor in Ecuador since one in 1949 killed more than 5,000 people.

President Barack Obama spoke by phone with Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Tuesday. The White House said Obama offered condolences on behalf of the American people for lives lost.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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