Tuesday 27 September 2016

They were organising my funeral but I've been reborn, says earthquake survivor

Published 19/04/2016 | 18:06

Earthquake survivor Pablo Rafael Cordova Canizares at the Verdi Cevallos Balda hospital in Portoviejo, Ecuador (AP)
Earthquake survivor Pablo Rafael Cordova Canizares at the Verdi Cevallos Balda hospital in Portoviejo, Ecuador (AP)

A man who was pulled alive from the rubble after the devastating earthquake which struck Ecuador has told how his wife had already bought a coffin for his funeral.

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Hotel administrator Pablo Cordova was one of a trickle of survivors pulled from the debris after Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades flattened towns along the coast and killed more than 400 people.

Mr Cordova's wife had given up on ever seeing the 51-year-old again after the five-storey Gato de Portoviejo hotel in Portoviejo collapsed on him on Saturday, flattened by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake like the rest of the city centre.

She asked his boss to help her buy his coffin.

But Mr Cordova held out for 36 hours beneath the rubble, drinking his own urine and praying service would be restored before his mobile phone battery died.

He was finally able to call his wife on Monday afternoon and was pulled from the wreckage soon after by a team of rescuers from Colombia.

"They were organising the funeral, but I've been reborn," Mr Cordova said, grinning from beneath his bushy moustache in a provincial hospital.

"I will have to give that coffin back because I still have a long way to go before I die."

On Tuesday, teams from all over the world fanned out across the country's Pacific coastline to look for the dozens of people still missing.

Residents joined in with their bare hands, increasingly desperate as the clock for finding survivors runs down.

"Since Saturday, when this country started shaking, I've slept only two hours and haven't stopped working," said Juan Carranza, one of the firefighters leading the rescue effort in Portoviejo.

In the port city of Manta, a group of about 50 rescuers working with trained dogs, hydraulic jacks and a drill managed to free eight people trapped for more than 32 hours in the rubble of a shopping centre that was flattened by Saturday night's quake.

While the country cheered videos of such rescues, tragedy continued to mount.

At the same shopping centre, authorities were working to free a woman they had found buried alive with a heavy concrete slab pinning her legs when an aftershock forced them to suspend the effort.

When they returned, the debris pile had moved and the woman was dead, said Angel Moreira, a firefighter co-ordinating the effort.

Press Association

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