Israel, PA sending medical team to quake-affected areas

15 Palestinian medics said set to depart for Ecuador as death toll climbs to 233; Israeli volunteers on ground in Japan

People help to clean the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016. (AFP/Juan Cevallos)
People help to clean the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016. (AFP/Juan Cevallos)

Israeli and Palestinian rescue teams were to set out for Ecuador and southern Japan on Monday, after deadly earthquakes rocked both countries.

A Palestinian medical team is to leave Monday from the West Bank to Ecuador to help the victims of a powerful earthquake that killed more than 200 people in the South American country, the Palestinian Authority health minister said on Sunday.

Jawad Awwad said he is acting under instructions from PA President Mahmoud Abbas to send medics and medical equipment to Ecuador, the Ma’an news agency reported.

PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said 15 Palestinian medics would be dispatched on Monday, according to the report.

The IsraAID rescue group said it had some four rescue workers in Japan and seven set to depart for Ecuador Monday, depending on flight conditions. Regarding Japan, the organization’s director, Shachar Zahavi, said they “plan to bring more depending on the assignments given by local government.”

The strongest earthquake to hit Ecuador in decades flattened buildings and buckled highways along its Pacific coast. President Rafael Correa said at least 233 people had died and rescuers were struggling to reach survivors trapped under the rubble.

The magnitude-7.8 quake, the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979, was centered on Ecuador’s sparsely populated fishing ports and tourist beaches, 105 miles (170 kilometers) northwest of Quito, the capital.

Correa reported the death toll on his official Twitter account while flying back from Rome to deal with the crisis. Officials earlier had reported more than 580 people injured.

Vice President Jorge Glas said there were deaths in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil — all several hundred kilometers (miles) from the center of the quake, which struck shortly after nightfall Saturday.

Officials said shelters had been set up and field hospitals were being deployed in Pedernales and Portoviejo. More than 3,000 packages of food and nearly 8,000 sleeping kits were being delivered. Electricity in Manabi province, the hardest-hit, remained mostly down as authorities focused on finding survivors.

“Compatriots: Unity, strength and prayer,” Glas told a throng of residents gathered in the streets of Manta as he instructed them on how to look for survivors. “We need to be quiet so we can hear. We can’t use heavy machinery because it can be very tragic for those who are injured.”

On social media, Ecuadorians celebrated a video of a baby girl being pulled from beneath a collapsed home in Manta.

Shanty towns and cheaply constructed brick and concrete homes were reduced to rubble along the quake’s path, while in Guayaquil a shopping center’s roof fell down and a collapsed highway overpass crushed a car. In Manta, the airport closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air traffic control worker and a security guard.

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