By Julia Symmes Cobb and Ana Isabel Martinez
Rescuers in Ecuador are losing hope of finding more survivors from an earthquake that killed nearly 500 people and dealt a shattering blow to the South American OPEC country's already-fragile economy.
Praying for miracles, distraught family members have been beseeching rescue teams to find missing loved ones as they used dogs, bare hands and excavators to hunt through debris of flattened homes, hotels and stores in the hardest-hit Pacific coastal region.
The death toll stood at 480 on Tuesday afternoon but was expected to rise.
The magnitude-7.8 quake, which struck on Saturday, also left 107 people missing, and injured more than 4000, according to the latest government tallies.
Supervising rescue work in the disaster zone, Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa said the quake inflicted between $2 billion and $3 billion of damage to the oil-dependent economy and could knock two to three percentage points off growth.
"Let's not kid ourselves, it will be a long struggle ...
Reconstruction for years, billions (of dollars) in investment," said Correa, who appeared deeply moved.
"In the short term we're going to need tens of millions of dollars," Correa added from the quake-hit town of Tarqui, donning a mask, gloves and helmet.
Growth in Ecuador's small economy had already been forecast at near zero this year due to plunging oil revenues.
The quake, Ecuador's worst in decades, destroyed or damaged about 1500 buildings, triggered mudslides and left some 20,500 people sleeping in shelters, according to the government.
Some 54 people had been rescued alive since Saturday, the government said, but time was running out for people with missing relatives. As of Tuesday, rescue efforts were more of a search for corpses, Interior Minister Jose Serrano told Reuters.
In isolated villages and towns, survivors struggled without water, power or transport.
With presidential elections slated for next year, the government's response was under close scrutiny.
Security forces and relief workers appeared to mobilise quickly and government officials were fast to reach scenes of disaster, but many survivors in isolated areas complained they still lacked water, food and medicines.
The mayor of Muisne island, closest to the epicentre of the quake, said all inhabitants had been evacuated to temporary shelters on the nearby mainland.
"We've lost everything we acquired with years of work. We feel completely abandoned," he told local radio. "We need the government to relocate us."
Nearly 400 rescue workers have flown in from countries in Latin America, along with 83 specialists from Switzerland and Spain.
The United States said it would dispatch a team of disaster experts, while Cuba was sending doctors.
To finance emergency efforts, some $600 million in credit from multilateral lenders was activated, Ecuador said.
Ecuador also on Monday signed off on a $2 billion credit line from the China Development Bank to finance public investment. Ecuador and China, the country's main financier since 2009, had been negotiating the credit before the quake.