After Japan, Ecuador rattled by massive 7.8-magnitude quake; 78 killed, 600 injured

The quake was also felt over northern Peru and southern Colombia

A massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador on Sunday, mainly affecting western coastal areas nearest and places like Guayaquil, the largest city of the Andean nation.

Initial estimates show that around 78 people died and nearly 600 injured. A Tsunami warning was issued initially but authorities later said such a risk has passed now.

Ecuador Vice-President Jorge Glas said in television that it was the strongest quake that the country has seen since 1979.

The tremor was also felt over northern Peru and southern Colombia, according to official sources, although no casualties were reported.

President Rafael Correa declared a national emergency and has cut short a trip to Italy to return home.

Although Ecuador's Institute of Geophysics had given several lower readings, the US Geological Survey (USGS) has given the 7.8 reading for the quake which struck with a depth of 10km at 11.58pm GMT (7.58am Sunday, Singapore time) about 173 km west-north-west of Quito and just 28km south-south-east of Muisne.

"There is considerable damage in the area of the epicenter and also as far away as places like the city of Guayaquil," the Geophysics Institute said in a bulletin, but gave no details.

The government said the damages were "serious", especially in the western coastal areas nearest the quake and in Guayaquil.

Guayaquil's mayor Jaime Nebot, who was traveling in Spain, said he would coordinate recovery operations from where he was.

Official details on the damage to Guayaquil, a frequent departure point for foreign tourists visiting the Galapagos islands made famous by Charles Darwin, were slow to emerge.

The Andean nation's government recommended residents leave coastal areas over concern for rising tides following the quake.

In fact, two earthquakes jolted the same area just 11 minutes apart, the USGS said. The first measured 4.8 and the second 7.8. Earlier reports had put the magnitude of the second quake at 7.4.

The capital's municipal government said power had been restored and there were no reports of casualties in the city.

Ecuador's 110,000 barrel-per-day Esmeraldas refinery was halted as a precautionary measure after an earthquake, Reuters reported quoting Pedro Merizalde, head of state oil company Petroecuador.

Ecuador lies near a shifting boundary between tectonic plates and has suffered seven earthquakes of magnitude-7.0 or higher in the region of Tuesday's quake since 1900, the USGS said. One in March 1987 killed about 1,000 people, it said.