Quito, Apr 19: Some 1,700 people are still missing three days after a big earthquake struck Ecuador, an official said today, raising fears that a death toll currently put at 480 could dramatically rise.
"We have 2,000 people listed that are being looked for, but we have so far found 300," Deputy Interior Minister Diego Fuentes told reporters in the capital Quito.
"Right now we have 480 people who were killed and approximately 2,560 people who were injured," he said.
It was the first figure for people missing that officials have given since the 7.8-magnitude quake hit Ecuador's Pacific coast on Saturday, bringing homes and hotels in the popular tourist area crashing to earth.
Rescue workers have been scrambling since immediately after the quake to find survivors, and some have been pulled from the debris.
But time is running out, and hope is fading rapidly of finding more people alive in the rubble, despite emergency teams from Colombia, Mexico, El Salvador and other countries helping overwhelmed Ecuadorian officials.
Sniffer dogs and mechanical diggers were still busy at work in the wreckage of coastal towns such as Pedernales and Manta as the stench of rotting bodies filled the air.