A powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador has killed at least 77 people and injured more than 500, Vice-President Jorge Glas says.
The quake, Ecuador’s largest since 1979, hit at 18:58 on Saturday (23:58 GMT) near the northern town of Muisne.
Widespread severe damage is reported, with a bridge destroyed as far south as Guayaquil about 300km (190 miles) away. President Rafael Correa, who is flying back from a trip to Italy, has decreed a state of emergency.
He said: “This is a very painful test. I ask the country to be calm and united… Let’s be strong; we will overcome this.”
He added: “Roads and hospitals can be rebuilt; you cannot recover lost lives. That’s what hurts the most.”
Mr Glas said that at least 77 people had died and 588 had been injured, adding that the figures could rise as a number of affected areas had not yet been reached.
He called for calm, particularly in the city of Portoviejo, amid reports of a “lack of public order”, and said that 10,000 troops and 3,500 police had been mobilised for the affected areas.
Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of the town of Pedernale, which is close to the epicentre, said: “We’re trying to do the most we can but there’s almost nothing we can do.”
He said dozens of buildings had been flattened and looting had broken out.
“This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town,” Mr Alcivar said.
Carla Peralto, a resident of Boyaca, one of the worst-affected areas, told the BBC: “I never felt something like that in my life. It was so strong. I was feeling very, very scared… I was thinking ‘God, please stop that because maybe I die today’.”
Serious damage was also reported in the city of Manta, with an airport tower among the buildings destroyed.
Manta resident Ramon Solorzano told Reuters: “Most people are out in the streets with backpacks on, heading for higher ground. The streets are cracked. The power is out and phones are down.”
The US Geological Survey said the earthquake struck at a fairly shallow depth of 19.2km (11.9 miles), about 27km from Muisne in a sparsely populated area.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has now issued a message saying that the threat of a tsunami has now mostly passed and that any remaining risk should be evaluated by local authorities.
However, it earlier said tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to one metre above the tide level were possible for some coasts of Ecuador. Any damage that had occurred might not be visible until daylight.
Quito resident Cristian Ibarra Santillan told the BBC he grabbed his dog and hid under a table, but when he realised the quake “wasn’t going away and that I might be found here if the worst happened” he ran out into the street.
“We could see the electricity lines shaking – in other parts of the city, they’ve collapsed.”
Work at the main oil refinery at Esmeraldas was temporarily halted as a precautionary measure. Many regional leaders, including the presidents of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, have expressed solidarity with Ecuador. The quake was also felt in Colombia, where patients in a clinic in the city of Cali were evacuated from the building.