PEDERNALES, Ecuador — Ecuador’s president predicted Monday a “considerable” rise in the death toll from a massive earthquake whose tally already includes at least 350 lives amid flattened villages along the country’s Pacific coast.

President Rafael Correa tried to lift spirits by saying the country will overcome a “very difficult moment,” but also added a sobering message that the full extent of Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude quake was still unknown.

The death toll would “surely rise, and in a considerable way,” Correa said as rescue teams struggled to reach the quake zone, where some areas were cut off by landslides and buckled roads.

Ecuador’s security minister, Cesar Navas, told the Teleamazonas channel that the death count had reached at least 350, the Associated Press reported.

Correa — who flew directly to the area after breaking off a trip to the Vatican — described the earthquake as the worst natural disaster to hit Ecuador since a 1949 quake in the Andes killed more than 5,000 people.

On Sunday in the seaside town of Pedernales, the quake’s epicenter, residents gathered outside a soccer stadium, hoping for supplies and news. Some had come to identify the bodies of loved ones.

“It was only after the earthquake finished that we could get out of the house,” said Angelica Valencia, 30, clutching a gallon of water and surrounded by her three young children. “It was terrifying, and now we’re sleeping on the street.”

The Esmeraldas oil refinery, key to the oil producer’s economy, halted output after the quake.

A bridge in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city, collapsed after the quake. Other bridges across the country were undergoing safety checks.

About $300 million was available for relief efforts, the government said.

Residents who were evacuated from coastal towns because of fears of a tsunami would be allowed to return to their homes, said Vice President Jorge Glas, who visited disaster sites Sunday.

“No Ecuadoran is alone,” Glas tweeted. “We will come out of this emergency stronger.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.