QUITO, Ecuador (AP) - Some affectionally call Machala the “Banana Capital of the World.” This port community on Ecuador's Pacific coast is home to about a quarter million people and normally bustles with commercial activity. But not this weekend, not after the deadly quake.

Grief hung in the air on Sunday, a day after a powerful temblor rocked this city, toppling homes and buildings along the coast and as far off as the Ecuadorian higlands and even parts of Peru.

Rubble covered some streets of Machala. Neighbors held simple funerals to bury the dead. A pier was no more. And a day after the quake that killed nine residents alone along this hard-hit coast, many in Machala were feeling anguished and uneasy.

“The city is quiet, fear and mourning are felt,” resident Luis Becerra said. “You feel the pain, the drama, wherever you go. Everyone is alert, with great fear in case there is a replica.”

The 6.8 magnitude

The quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey measured at magnitude 6.8, shook parts of Ecuador and Peru on Saturday, killing at least 15 people and injuring more than 445 others. Fourteen of the victims died in Ecuador and one in Peru.

The quake damaged and brought down hundreds of homes and buildings in vastly different communities, both in coastal areas and the highlands. But in Ecuador, regardless of geography, many of the homes that crumbled had much in common: many were old, many did not meet modern building code standards in such a quake-prone country and many of their inhabitants were poor.

Yajaira Albarracin, Graciela Chila, Silvina Zambrano Chila and two children died under the rubble of their home in a low-income neighborhood of Machala. On Sunday, a few neighbors stopped by a tent where the caskets of the women where set out with some floral arrangements and a standing crucifix. Some relatives said rescuers found the bodies of the women and children as if they had been clutching one another when the disaster struck.

The earthquake was centered just off the Pacific Coast, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Guayaquil, Ecuador's second-largest city. Of the country's 14 victims, 12 died in the southwest coastal state of El Oro, which includes Machala, and two died in the highlands state of Azuay.

Ecuador is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes. In 2016, a quake centered farther north on the Pacific Coast in a more sparsely populated area of the country killed more than 600 people.

Machala resident Hamilton Cedillo said Sunday that he and his family barely slept in the hours afterward, fearful of deadly aftershocks. They have come up with an evacuation plan and watched videos on how to protect themselves should another quake strike.

“I am afraid of leaving and that my family will be left here alone at home,” Cedillo said.

Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims during his weekly Sunday noon blessing.

“I'm close to the Ecuadorean people and assure them of my prayers for the dead and suffering,” Francis said.

Ecuador's government issued an emergency declaration covering the roads in Azuay, where the quake debris cut off several roads and worsened already poor conditions attributed to the winter's rainstorms. One of the victims in that state was a passenger in a vehicle crushed by rubble from a house in the community of Cuenca.

In El Oro, according to the Risk Management Secretariat, Ecuador's emergency response agency, several people were trapped under rubble or in damaged buildings, unable to immediately escape.

Quito-based architect German Narvaez said houses hardest-hit by quakes tend to be poorly built, lacking solid foundations, and deficient in structure and technical design. He added that the houses most vulnerable are often old and built with materials such as adobe, once frequently used in Andean communities.

“At critical moments of seismic movements, they tend to collapse,” he said of such homes.

Juan Vera lost three relatives when the earthquake brought down his niece's home. The government has offered to pay for the woman's funeral and those of her baby and her partner.

Now, Vera wonders why local authorities ever allowed his relatives to live in such an old home to begin with, saying the municipality should better regulate the condition of such buildines and ensure only those that are realy safe are rented out or occupied.

“Because of its age, that building should have been demolished already,” Vera said of the place where his relatives died.


Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.