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Ecuador earthquake: Death toll jumps to 272; more than 2,500 injured
by Ralph Ellis, Faith Karimi, Azadeh Ansari and Natalie Gallon, CNN

(CNN)Rescue crews searched desperately through rubble for survivors of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador.

The death toll has soared to 272, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa said Sunday evening. That number is expected to rise as rescue teams dig through the rubble, he said.

Earlier that day, Vice President Jorge Glas had estimated that at least 2,527 people were injured.

The hardest-hit area was the coastal Manabi Province, where about 200 people died, said Ricardo Peñaherrera of Ecuador's national emergency management office. The cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Pedernales, a tourist destination, saw the most devastation but damage was widespread throughout the country.

"The first hours are crucial," Correa said. "We're finding signs of life in the rubble. We're giving this priority. After, we'll work to find and recover bodies."

People looking for family and friends frantically dug with their hands and tools until excavation equipment arrived.

"It was the worst experience of my life," survivor Jose Meregildo said Sunday about the tremors that violently shook his house in Guayaquil, 300 miles away from the quake's epicenter. "Everybody in my neighborhood was screaming saying it was going to be the end of the world."

The earthquake hit Saturday around 7 p.m. while people were going about their evening. The tremors buckled overpasses trapping drivers. A shopping mall partially collapsed on customers and several buildings have been flattened with their content spilled into the streets.

All six coastal provinces -- Guayas, Manabi, Santo Domingo, Los Rios, Esmeraldas and Galapagos -- are in state of emergencies.

People left their homes and wandered around, some sleeping in the streets.

"I found my house like this," said Nely Intriago, standing in front of a pile of rubble. "What am I going to do? Cry, that's what. Now we are on the street with nothing."

Armed forces, police deployed
In a race to help residents, Ecuador deployed 10,000 soldiers and 4,600 police officers to the affected areas. The armed forces built mobile hospitals in Pedernales and Portoviejo and set up temporary shelters.

The military also brought in more K9 units to aid the search for survivors -- and bodies.

Videos showed rescuers pulling a young girl underneath the rubble of the Hotel Miami in the province of Manabi, finally pulling her out and taking her away on a stretcher.

Getting supplies and rescue crews to emergency areas has been a challenge.

"The lack of water and communication remains a big problem," Peñaherrera, of the emergency management office told CNN en Español. "Many highways are in bad shape, especially in the mountainous area because it has been raining recently due to (the) El Niño weather phenomenon."

The governments of Colombia, Chile, Spain and Mexico are sending help for rescue efforts, the vice president said. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States was "ready to assist in any way we can."

Correa arrived to the city of Portoviejo on Sunday night after cutting short his visit to a Vatican conference.

"I have infinite gratitude to the spirit of the Ecuadorian people, of our firefighters, our soldiers, our policemen and all workers who haven't slept, haven't eaten as they work hard to save lives," he said after arriving.

The president's official Twitter account used a hashtag that translated to "Ecuador ready and in solidarity" and showed him at one of the disaster sites.

During his Sunday prayer, Pope Francis asked for those present to pray for the people affected by the earthquakes in Ecuador and Japan.

"Last night a violent earthquake hit Ecuador, causing numerous victims and great damages," Francis said. "Let's pray for those populations, and for those of Japan, where as well there has been some earthquakes in the last days."

Japan had been hit with a series of earthquakes that have killed dozens.

Closures in recovery efforts
Ecuador's Interior Ministry ordered all nightlife venues in affected areas closed for the next 72 hours.

Also, the nation's soccer federation said it has suspended the remaining matches of the current round of the Ecuadorian championship.

All mobile operators are allowing free text messages for customers to reach out to loved ones in Manabi and Esmeraldas provinces, Glas said.

The tremor was centered 27 kilometers (16.8 miles) southeast of the coastal town of Muisne, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

It's the deadliest earthquake to hit the nation since March 1987 when a 7.2-magnitude temblor killed 1,000 people, according to the USGS.

The earthquake left shoppers shaken in Guayaquil. Video footage from a store showed kitchen utensils swinging back and forth as some items tumbled off shelves.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the capital of Quito, 173 kilometers (108 miles) from the quake epicenter. The tsunami threat following the earthquake has "now largely passed," according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

CNN's Rafael Romo, Steve Almasy, Tina Burnside, Ralph Ellis, Dakota Flournoy, Nelson Quinones, Natalie Gallon and Madison Park contributed to this report.

Rescue crews seek survivors of 2nd Japanese quake; at least 16 dead
by Don Melvin, Greg Botelho, Ray Sanche and Yoko Wakatsuki, CNN

Tokyo, Japan (CNN)Rescue crews scrambled through rubble Saturday in a race against time for survivors of a magnitude-7.0 earthquake that struck Japan's Kyushu Island, the same region rattled by a 6.2 quake two days earlier.

A total of 25 people have died in both earthquakes, according to current estimates.

The death toll in the latest Kyushu earthquake is 16 people, according to Kumamoto Prefecture's disaster management office. A previous earthquake that struck the area on Thursday had killed nine people.

The earthquake toppled buildings and shredded structures into pile of debris. At least 23 people were buried inside buildings, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said .

TV Asahi showed crews crawling over a collapsed roof in an attempt to find an elderly couple. An 80-year-old man was pulled from the rubble, TV Asahi said.

The tremors appear to have caused extensive damage, overturning cars, splitting roads and triggering a landslide as shown by TV Asahi footage. The area was rocked by as many as 165 aftershocks, some of them as strong as magnitude-5.3 struck in the hours after the quake.

Television images showed mostly desolate streets, shards of broken glass on the streets and people huddled outside.

Japan's Fire and Disaster Management Agency said 7,262 people have sought shelter at 375 centers since Friday in Kumamoto Prefecture. Suga said 20,000 self-defense forces are being deployed to the region for rescue efforts.

Japan's "Ring of Fire"
The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the latest quake struck just west-southwest of Kumamoto-shi and about 8 miles south-southeast of Ueki, the epicenter of the late Thursday tremor that left nine dead.

"No question, this is a large and very important earthquake," said Doug Given, a geophysicist with the USGS. "And it will do a lot of damage."

Given noted: "The four islands of Japan are on the edge of what's traditionally been known as the 'Ring of Fire'" -- a stretch along parts of the Pacific Ocean prone to volcanoes and earthquakes.

Victor Sardina, a geophysicist in Honolulu, Hawaii, told CNN that the latest quake was about 30 times more powerful than Thursday's deadly tremor. He predicted "severe, serious implications in terms of damage and human losses."

The shallow depth of the quake -- about 10 kilometers, or 6 miles -- and the densely populated area where it struck could prove to be devastating, according to experts.

The quake prompted the Japan Meteorological Agency to issue a tsunami advisory for coastal regions of Japan on the Ariake Sea and Yatsushiro Sea around 2 a.m. Saturday (1 p.m. ET Friday). The agency subsequently lifted all tsunami warnings and advisories.

Japanese media reported a small scale eruption of Mt. Aso around 8:30 a.m. local time Saturday. It was unclear whether the eruption occurred in relation to the earthquake, according to the Japan's meteorological agency.

'Buildings were swaying and cracking'
"This looks like it's going to be a very damaging earthquake. I think we can expect that this is going to be far worse" than Thursday's tremor, said Tom Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

In short video posted to Instagram, people standing in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven in Kumamoto let out screams following an aftershock.

Journalist Mike Firn in Tokyo told CNN he felt the trembles in a building some 900 kilometers, or more than 550 miles away from the epicenter.

"The building started shaking," he said. "It was swaying quite strongly for over a minute. ... Buildings were swaying and cracking."

The latest tremor suggests that the earthquake on Thursday was a foreshock, though USGS expert cautioned "that's not to say that the Earth can't produce a bigger earthquake still to follow."

"But statistically, it's more likely that this latest event will be followed by aftershocks, which are all smaller."

Prime Minister on the way to the site
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit the earthquake-hit area in Kumamoto prefecture later Saturday, he said at a meeting at emergency response headquarters in Tokyo.

"I would like to see the site with my own eyes and hear from the victims directly," Abe said.

Search crews were continuing to dig through rubble looking for other people trapped under collapsed buildings.

The Thursday quake struck near Ueki, the U.S. Geological Survey said. Dozens of smaller aftershocks followed.

"The ground shook for about 20 seconds before the 6.2-magnitude quake stopped," witness Lim Ting Jie had said.

Two deaths occurred in Mashiki, the Kumamoto prefecture office said. One person died in a collapsed house, and the other died in a fire caused by the quake. Journalist Mike Fern told CNN that scores of buildings had either collapsed or caught fire, while the tremors triggered landslides, tore up roads and in one case, derailed a bullet train.

Nearly 800 people were injured, 50 severely. The prefecture office said 44,449 people had been evacuated.

Baby pulled from rubble after earlier quake
Japan had already been coping with a previous earthquake on Kyushu island on Thursday. During the search and recovery effort for the first earthquake, rescuers found an 8-month-old baby girl alive in the ruins of a home destroyed by the earlier quake on Japan's Kyushu island.

Rescuers had been told there was a baby inside the collapsed house, but aftershocks from the quake prevented the use of heavy equipment at the site. After six hours after the infant was trapped, she was pulled from the rubble early Friday.

"It was miracle she was unharmed," said Hidenori Watanabe, a spokesman for the Kumamoto Higashi fire department.

Fifty rescuers -- wearing dark uniforms and white hard-hats with lights -- scoured the large pile of rubble that just hours before had been a home. The infant's mother and grandmother had managed to escape.

The little girl was finally found safe amid the debris in a space under one of the house's pillars, according to Watanabe.

This happened in the middle of the night, in an area lit only by spotlights.

Carefully, rescuers passed the barefooted baby to one another, before she finally got to crews on the ground and was taken swiftly away.

A high-risk area
The largest recorded quake to hit Japan came on March 11, 2011, when a magnitude-9.0 quake centered 231 miles (372 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo devastated the country.

That quake triggered a massive tsunami that swallowed entire communities in eastern Japan. It caused catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Japan: Fukushima clean-up may take up to 40 years

The disaster killed about 22,000 people -- almost 20,000 from the initial quake and tsunami, and the rest from health conditions related to the disaster.

CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki reported from Tokyo, CNN's Don Melvin from London and CNN's Ralph Ellis, Greg Botelho and Ray Sanchez reported and wrote from Atlanta and New York. CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo, Paul Armstrong in Hong Kong, and David Williams and Richard Beltran in Atlanta contributed to this report.

New discovery means more U.S. states will face a risk from Zika
by Nick Miroff

For the first time in the Western Hemisphere, researchers have detected the Zika virus in Aedes albopictus, the mosquito species known as the “Asian tiger,” a finding that increases the number of U.S. states potentially at risk for transmission of the disease.

During the summer months when U.S. mosquito populations are at their peak, albopictus are more ubiquitous than the Aedes aegypti that have been the primary vector of the spread of Zika elsewhere in the Americas. Unlike the aegypti mosquito, which is mostly present in southern United States and along the Gulf Coast, the albopictus has a range as far north as New England and the lower Great Lakes.

The discovery was reported recently by the Pan American Health Organization after researchers in Mexico confirmed the presence of Zika in Asian tiger mosquitoes captured in the state of San Luis Potosi and sent them to government labs for testing.

U.S. health officials say they had anticipated the finding and have already encouraged states within the range of the Asian tiger mosquitoes to prepare for Zika. Scientists had previously identified the Asian tiger as the primary vector for Zika during a 2007 outbreak in the West African country of Gabon.

U.S. health officials say the latest discovery should serve as a wake-up call to state and local governments that have assumed their populations were too far north to be at risk.

“There are officials who have been saying we don’t have aedes aegypti, so we don’t need to be worried or have a plan,” said Janet McAllister, an entomologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “What CDC is saying is: You need a plan in place because albopictus could transmit Zika in your area, and you need to take it seriously.”

While the methods for eliminating the aegypti and albopictus mosquitoes are similar, they are not identical, experts say, because the two species have significantly different behavioral and breeding patterns.

Unlike the aegypti mosquito, which thrives in urban areas by laying eggs in discarded food containers and old tires, the Asian tiger mosquito lives outdoors, laying its eggs in tree stumps and holes, McAllister said. It doesn’t try to follow humans indoors and prefers leafy forests to dense urban environments. It’s especially fond of suburban back yards and sprawling city parks.

Marcos Espinal, director of communicable diseases at the Pan American Health Organization, said researchers are still trying to determine how effectively the Asian tiger can spread disease in comparison to aegypti.

“Scientists will not be surprised if it’s a competent vector, but we need to find out more,” Espinal said in an interview.

CDC entomologist McAllister said there are several reasons to doubt that the Asian tiger mosquito will be able to drive the kind of Zika outbreak ravaging Brazil, where more than 1,000 infants have been born with undersize heads and severe brain damage probably caused by a Zika-related infection during the early stages of fetal development.

For one, the albopictus mosquito is “a more aggressive biter,” McAllister said, as it feeds on humans, raccoons, squirrels or any other warm-blooded mammal it finds.

“Once it starts taking a blood meal, it will stay on that person until it’s completely full,” she said, instead of jumping from person to person — precisely the promiscuous behavior that makes the aegypti species so effective at spreading infections.

The aegypti variety is much more adapted to humans, she said, as it flies low around human ankles to avoid detection, then eats quick, short meals that reduce its chances of getting swatted.

“It won’t take a complete blood meal if people are actively moving around, so that’s what makes aegypti a super-spreader,” McAllister said. “Whereas the albopictus tends to stay put.”

Specimens of the Asian tiger species found in the United States have been traced back to northern Japan, reflecting the mosquito’s ability to survive colder weather. With a distinctive black-and-white coloring, the species was first detected in North America at the Port of Houston in 1985, and later showed up in the Port of Los Angeles. In both instances, scientists suspect the larvae arrived in shipments of used tires.

Albopictus eggs have also arrived from Asia in the ornamental plants sold as “lucky bamboo” in U.S. department stores.

In Europe albopictus populations have increased so fast that the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, a European Union agency, has labeled it the world’s most invasive mosquito species.

Eliminating albopictus larvae can be more difficult than controlling aegypti populations because the species can reproduce in a variety of outdoor environments, said Thomas Inglesby, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Health Security.

The discovery of Zika in the Asian tiger mosquito means states and counties in the insect’s range need to rethink their control plans, he said.

“We have a big country where the responsibility for this rests with a lot of little jurisdictions, so we don’t have a lot of good data about how well states and localities are prepared,” Inglesby said. “Mosquito-control programs around the country are a patchwork.”

“I think some states and local governments have been focusing on aegypti and less on albopictus, but this finding makes clear that both will require control measures,” he added.

The White House has asked Congress for nearly $1.9 billion to help state and local health officials prepare for a Zika outbreak in the United States this summer, including funds for spraying, larvacide and other mosquito control methods. The request has been stalled for two months, and Senate Republicans have countered with a $1.1 billion proposal.

In the meantime, the Obama administration has been paying for Zika preparations using funds previously approved for fighting Ebola.

According to the most recent CDC figures, 426 Zika cases have been reported in the 50 U.S. states by travelers who acquired the virus abroad or had sex with an infected partner. Another 596 cases have been tallied in U.S. territories, mostly in Puerto Rico, where mosquitoes are spreading the disease.

There have been no reports of Zika transmission by mosquitoes in the 50 U.S. states, but the CDC has warned that is likely to change as insect populations increase with warmer weather.

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