The 7.8 magnitude quake, Ecuador’s worst in nearly seven decades, injured about 12,500 people and left 130 missing along the country’s ravaged Pacific coast.
“These have been sad days for the homeland,” said a visibly moved Correa during his regular Saturday TV broadcast. “The country is in crisis.”
There have been several strong tremors and more than 700 aftershocks since the quake, causing panic but little additional damage. Tremors are expected to continue for several weeks.
With nearly 7,000 buildings destroyed, more than 26,000 people are living in shelters. About 14,000 security personnel are keeping order in the affected areas, where only sporadic looting has been reported.
Survivors in the quake zone have been receiving food, water and medicine from the government and scores of foreign aid workers, but Correa has acknowledged that the poor condition of roads delayed the arrival of aid to some communities.
Correa’s leftwing government, which is facing a huge rebuilding task at a time ofgreatly reduced oil revenues, has said it will temporarily increase some taxes, offer assets for sale and possibly issue bonds abroad to fund reconstruction. Congress will begin debate on the tax proposal on Tuesday.
The president has estimated the damage at between $2bn and $3bn. Diminished oil revenues have already left the Opec member country of nearly 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment.
On Saturday, Ecuador’s private banking association said its member banks would defer payments on credit cards, loans and mortgages for clients in the quake zone for three months in order to assist reconstruction efforts.