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World

Ecuador's President Cuts Short Trip To Rome; Quake's Death Toll Rises

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We might not know for some time how devastating an earthquake was in Ecuador over the weekend. Some of the areas in the South American country hardest hit are incredibly remote, as reporter Carolina Loza Leon described.

CAROLINA LOZA LEON: It is areas that are often neglected, that lack services. And often, because of the poverty in parts of the area that has been affected in the three coastal provinces, it's difficult to reach in a normal situation, so it's even worse. It's exacerbated by the current situation.

GREENE: And the president has returned to the country from the Vatican and addressed the nation last night. I mean, has he been able to calm people and help them through this?

LEON: Well, this strategy comes in a very difficult time to the country. There has been - his popularity ratings are very low. And a lot of people were very worried about what he had to say. He was able to head to Manta. Manta's one of the biggest cities in the country and has been immensely damaged by the whole - by the earthquake. He flew directly there, and he addressed the nation from there. There has been a massive outpour in most parts of the country to deliver aid and people willing to volunteer to head to the worst-affected areas. So he has for appealed unity, solidarity and support.

GREENE: Carolina, you mentioned the city Manta, where the president went and was very hard hit. This is your hometown, right?

LEON: Yes. All of my relatives are doing OK, but they have also been affected by all the chaos. It basically was chaos hours after the earthquake, people trying to get - to reach out to each other. The damage has been pretty bad in most parts of the city. It's still uncertain in terms of how damaged the whole city was. This is a city that once hosted a U.S. Air Force base, that had a spectacular growth, that is now completely - it's rubble, most parts of the city.

GREENE: Have you talked to anyone in your home city about the situation right now?

LEON: Yes, I spoke to them. A lot of the people were unaware what to do. This took everyone by surprise, especially people on the coast. After the initial chaos and panic, people have been trying to reach to their loved ones and also try to get back to their sites. Many are staying in shelters, so many are trying to reach their loved ones and see the damage on their property and businesses.

GREENE: And did anyone tell you about what the damage looked like, what the city of Manta looks like right now?

LEON: I've been seeing photographs and talking to people and trying to video whenever possible. It is very hard to even reach the area right now. The aftershocks - we're talking about 230 aftershocks. There are even (unintelligible). I saw that, throughout the day, the roads are completely destroyed. And the commercial areas - basically the heart of the city - is absolutely destroyed. I know of a person that has a business there and has no way of even reaching to the it's because area rubble. And it was - she's completely - in complete despair trying to see if there's anything left of her business.

GREENE: Well, Carolina, I know it can't be easy to know that your city is going through such a thing. We'll be thinking of the city and thinking of you. Thanks so much for talking to us this morning.

LEON: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.