Tales of heartache and tragedy emerge from the rubble.

It was supposed to be a family reunion to celebrate a young relative's start of university.

But the gathering ended in tragedy when a collapsing building crushed 17-year-old Sayira Quinde, her mother, father and toddler brother.

A grief-stricken aunt, Johana Estupinan, is now making the longest journey of her life in a hearse to the town of Esmeraldas, where she will bury her loved ones and break the news of the loss to her sister's three orphaned children.

As Ecuador digs out from its strongest earthquake in decades, tales of devastating loss are everywhere amid the rubble. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake left a trail of ruin along Ecuador's Pacific Ocean coast.At least 262 people died and thousands are homeless.


Portoviejo, a provincial capital of nearly 300,000, was among the hardest hit, with the town's mayor reporting at least 100 deaths.

The Quinde family drove there from their home up the coast to drop off Sayira at Estupinan's house a week before she was to start studying medicine.

"She was my favourite niece," Estupinan said after waiting at the city's morgue for hours. "I thought I was getting a daughter for the six years it was going to take her to earn a degree. I never thought my life would be destroyed in a minute."

The Sunday quake knocked out power in many parts and residents who fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami had no home to return to, or feared structures still standing might collapse. With makeshift shelters in short supply, many spent a second straight night outdoors.

As rescuers scrambled through the ruins near the epicentre, some digging with their hands to look for survivors, humanitarian aid began trickling in. More than 3000 packages of food and nearly 8000 sleeping kits were being delivered. Venezuela and Colombia organised airlifts. Mexico and Chile sent teams of rescuers.

"Help me find my family," pleaded Manuel Quijije, 27, standing next to a wrecked building in Portoviejo. He said his older brother, Junior, was trapped under a pile of twisted steel and concrete with two relatives. "We managed to see his arms and legs. They're his, they're buried, but the police kicked us out because they say there's a risk the rest of the building will collapse. We're not afraid. We're desperate. We want to pull out our family."

A woman carries a table through a street in Pedernales after the earthquake. Photo / AP
A woman carries a table through a street in Pedernales after the earthquake. Photo / AP

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

But fear was also spreading of another night of looting after 180 prisoners from a jail near Portoviejo escaped amid the tumult. Authorities said 20 inmates were recaptured and some others returned voluntarily, sensing that life on the outside was just as deprived.

Seeking security from any unrest, about 400 residents of Portoviejo gathered on the tarmac of the city's former airport, where authorities handed out water, mattresses and food.

Meanwhile, in Japan, rescue teams were scouring the shattered remains of buildings in a race against time to find survivors of a series of powerful earthquakes that struck the region.

At least 32 people were killed on Saturday in a violent tremor of 7.3 magnitude, which injured nearly 1000 others and damaged houses, roads and bridges. It was the second quake to hit the island of Kyushu after a tremor on Friday killed nine people.

At least 410 quakes rocked the region over the weekend, more than 160 of which had a magnitude of 3.5 or larger.

At least seven people were unaccounted for yesterday, as police and rescuers combed through buildings that collapsed in the largest quake to hit the region since 1889.

Other teams have gone to the sites of at least a dozen major landslides, and Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, said 25,000 soldiers were helping rescuers.

- Telegraph Group Ltd, AP