At least 77 people are dead after a 7.8 earthquake struck off the coast of Ecuador spreading panic for hundreds of kilometres as it collapsed homes and buckled a major overpass.
The US Geological Survey said Saturday's shallow quake, the strongest since 1979 to hit Ecuador, was centred 27km southeast of Muisne, a sparsely populated area of fishing ports that's popular with tourists.
Vice-President Jorge Glas said in a televised address that there were initial reports of 77 dead in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil - all several hundred kilometres from where the quake struck shortly after nightfall. He said the death toll is likely to rise as reports from the worst-hit areas come in.
"We're trying to the most we can but there's almost nothing we can do," said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the epicentre.
He pleaded for rescuers as dozens of buildings in the town were flattened, people trapped and looting broke out amid the chaos.
"This wasn't just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town."
Among those killed was the driver of a car crushed by an overpass that buckled in Guayaquil, the country's most populous city.
On social media residents shared photos of homes collapsed, the roof of a shopping centre coming apart and supermarket shelves shaking violently. In Manta, the airport was closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air force official. Hydroelectric dams and oil pipelines in the OPEC-member nation were shut down as a precautionary measure.
President Rafael Correa, who is in Rome after attending a Vatican conference on Friday, called on Ecuadoreans to stay strong while authorities monitor events.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said hazardous tsunami waves are possible for some coasts. While the government hadn't issued a tsunami alert, Glas urged residents along the coast to move to higher ground and towns near the epicentre were also being evacuated as a precautionary measure.
An emergency had been declared in six of Ecuador's 24 provinces, while sporting events and concerts were cancelled until further notice nationwide.
In the capital Quito hundreds of kilometres away, the quake was felt for about 40 seconds and people fled to the streets in fear. The quake knocked out electricity in several neighbourhoods and six homes collapsed but the situation under control and power being restored, Quito's Mayor Mauricio Rodas said.
Across the Pacific in Japan, a 7.3 magnitude tremor struck Kumamoto province early Saturday, killing at least 32 people, injuring about a thousand and causing widespread damage, in the second major quake to hit the island of Kyushu in just over 24 hours. The first, late on Thursday, killed nine.
Reuters /AP/ Newshub.