The latest in a spate of major earthquakes worldwide struck the South American country of Ecuador last night, near the northern town of Muisne. A 7.8 magnitude quake at a shallow 12 miles, it has left at least 77 people dead

The Ecuadorian town of Muisne and the cities of Guayaquil and Manta are waiting for daylight to reveal the extent of devastation caused by a major earthquake that struck at 18.00 local time. Neighbouring Peru issued a tsunami alert for its northern coastline, which has since been stood down, and the severe and shallow shock was felt as far away as Colombia.

Local resident Ramon Solorzano told the Reuters news agency,

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.

Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of the town of Pedernale close to the epicentre, told the BBC, ‘We’re trying to do the most we can but there’s almost nothing we can do. This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town.’

Buildings have been flattened in coastal regions, and there are reports of looting.

Disaster relief agency ShelterBox has aid in the region, and is mobilizing a team to assess the need and damage. President Rafael Correahas declared a state of national emergency, saying,

This is a very painful test. I ask the country to be calm and united. Let’s be strong. We will overcome this. Roads and hospitals can be rebuilt. You cannot recover lost lives. That’s what hurts.

ShelterBox is also closely monitoring southern Japan where two quakes and numerous aftershocks followed other seismic events in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Vanuatu over the past week. It has teams in Fiji responding to two cyclones, and they are aware of the threat of tsunamis at any point around the Pacific.

Operations Team Lead James Luxton says, ‘Due to the potential tsunami threat our team in Fiji was informed and put on standby, but that threat has now passed.’

‘In Ecuador a state of emergency has been announced in six provinces. Buildings are down in the coastal regions, particularly around Guayaquil the second largest city in Ecuador. The current count is 77 dead and over 500 injured, but this will rise. Within Ecuador those evacuated from the coast due to the tsunami threat have now been advised to return home, so more information will come in regarding those badly affected areas.’

The quake is Ecuador’s largest since 1979. Among early reports of infrastructure damage is a bridge destroyed as far south as Guayaquil, about 190 miles away from the epicentre, which the US Geological Survey says was in a sparsely populated area about 27km from Muisne.