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Ecuadoreans jostle for food and water in earthquake zone

Survivors of an earthquake that killed 570 people and shattered Ecuador’s coast clamored for food, water and medicine on Thursday as aid failed to reach some of the remotest parts of the quake zone.

President Rafael Correa’s socialist government, facing a mammoth rebuilding task at a time of slashed oil revenues in the OPEC nation, said there was no lack of aid – just problems with distribution that should be quickly resolved.

“We’re trying to survive. We need food,” said Galo Garcia, 65, a lawyer, waiting in line for water from a truck sent to the beachside village of San Jacinto. “There’s nothing in the shops. We’re eating the vegetables we grow.”

A crowd nearby chanted: “We want food.”

The government quickly moved supplies to the main towns and set up shelters for nearly 25,000 people in soccer stadiums and airports but the shattered state of the roads has impeded aid reaching remoter areas.

Many people left their villages seeking help while on roads near Pedernales, one of the worst-hit towns, children from rural areas held signs begging for food.

CHILDREN CRYING

Jose Rodriguez, 24, drove two hours from Calceta village to a food storage point outside Pedernales.

“It’s not reaching us,” he said, giving his address and phone number to a military office. “I came here to see if they could give me something but it’s impossible.”

A government official asked another supplicant, Jose Gregorio Basulor, 55, to stay calm. “I can be patient but not the children!” he shouted back. “They are crying.”

Correa has said Ecuador will temporarily increase some taxes, offer assets for sale and possibly issue bonds on the international market to fund reconstruction after Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude quake. He has estimated damage at $2 billion to $3 billion.

Lower oil revenue already had left the nation of 16 million people facing near-zero growth and lower investment.

“There are rumors there’s a shortage of water,” Correa said late on Wednesday, responding to complaints about the aid operation. “We have plenty of water. The problem is distribution,” he added, promising speedy solutions.

Ecuador’s worst earthquake in nearly seven decades injured 7,000 people and damaged close to 2,000 buildings. Scores of foreign aid workers and experts have arrived and 14,000 security personnel are keeping order, with only sporadic looting.

Correa said the death toll would have been lower had Ecuadoreans respected construction regulations beefed up after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 300,000 people.

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