The death toll continues to rise in Ecuador as relief and rescue efforts continue in the South American nation following a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the country last weekend.

At least 600 people were killed in the quake - the country's worst in decades - and thousands have been injured. Dozens of people are still missing but authorities were still hopeful on Thursday this week that more people may yet be found alive.

SCENES OF DEVASTATION AND HOPE: Ruined buildings in Equador and a "child friendly space" established by World Vision. PICTURES: World Vision



On Saturday, 16th April, our quiet family dinner was interrupted by a strong earthquake. At 6:58pm our peaceful Quito started to shake.

This wasn’t my first experience with earthquakes. I survived Chile’s 8.8 magnitude earthquake in 2010.

I expected the worst and unfortunately my fears became reality. The earthquake on Saturday was the worst natural disaster our country has experienced in decades.

News spread quickly. Stories of sadness and destruction among the coastal communities filled the headlines on social media and TV.

Early the next morning, after a sleepless night, we learned that my cousin, Evelyn, who lives in Pedernales, one of the most affected areas, died when her house collapsed.

Her husband was able to rescue their children, a four-year-old girl and the baby she gave birth just three months ago.

We were devastated. I can't help but remember her joy as they welcomed the new member into the family.

Their house is completely destroyed; they lost everything.

I know that everything but lives can be replaced.

I pray to God for strength and ask His help to be able to accept her loss. It really hurts.

My family in Quito has not been able to travel to Pedernales to support our family, or attend the funeral. Flights have been reserved for humanitarian aid only.

Like me, hundreds of people have lost family members, some are still trapped in the rubble. At this moment, we all are connected by pain and sorrow.

My country is living through a difficult time right now...the whole country has been plunged into mourning.

Now I just ask for prayers.

Diego Rivadeneira works for World Vision Ecuador

Thousands of buildings were destroyed in the earthquake which struck off the Pacific coast at about 7pm local time last Saturday night.

Among the buildings damaged were homes, businesses, schools and hospitals - two of which collapsed completely - while hundreds more buildings have been at least partially damaged.

Infrastructure, including roads, has been further damaged by mudslides which, along with hundreds of aftershocks including a 6.0 magnitude quake on Thursday, have come in the wake of the quake.

The damage has been estimated in the billions of dollars.

President Rafael Correa, who has described the earthquake as the "greatest tragedy" to hit his country in the past 67 years, said in a televised address on Wednesday night he would raise sales taxes and put a one-off levy on millionaires to help pay for reconstruction efforts.

The UN said this week more than 720,000 people have been affected by the quake.

Stephen O'Brien, the top UN relief official who spent two days in the country this week, said many people lost homes and livelihoods in the earthquake but added that he was impressed by the "resilient spirit" of people he encountered.

Visiting coastal towns and the inland town of Portoviejo, he said he met many people who were living in the open or sheltering in the remains of homes, exposed to the weather.

"Medical facilities and items are urgently needed for people who are injured, as well as food, clean water and basic sanitation," he said.

The UN has allocated $7 million from the organisation's Central Emergency Response Fund to "kick start" operations in logistics, shelter, water, santitation, hygiene and emergency health."

One of the major concerns now surrounds the spread of disease due to water and sanitation conditions, particularly in coastal areas which are already considered hotspots for diseases like Zika viris, Dengue fever and malaria.

UN child-focused agency UNICEF said this week more than 150,000 people have been affected by the disaster.

Grant Leaity, UNICEF's representative in Ecuador, said this week those offering relief were in a "race against time" to protect children from disease and other risks.

World Vision, which has worked in the country for almost 40 years, has already established child friendly spaces where children could be kept safe during ongoing search and rescue operations.

The organisation has also delivered relief supplies, including food, water, tents and toiletries to affected areas.

Speaking from Portoviejo, Santiago Mosquera, World Vision Ecuador's communications manager, was struck by the scale of the destruction.

“Nobody ever would have imagined seeing Portoviejo as it is now,” he said.

“There are places where everything has collapsed, places I knew and visited before, that no longer exist. What moves me to tears is to see so much support and love in Ecuador and from other countries.”

The earthquake in Ecuador followed in the wake of two strong earthquakes in Japan - the last of which shook the country last Saturday morning. More than 40 people were killed in the Japan earthquakes.