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SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of Mormon missionaries in Ecuador are safe and accounted for after a devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake on Saturday night, a church representative said Sunday morning.
"We are grateful to report that all of our missionaries in the region have been contacted and are safe," LDS Church spokeswoman Kristen Howey said.
Howey, who herself served a mission in Ecuador, said church leaders are still gathering information about the impact of the earthquake.
"Because of the widespread devastation, it is difficult to determine how members and church facilities have been affected," she said, adding, "We are mindful of the destruction and loss of life caused by this earthquake and are praying for the people of Ecuador."
The major quake, the strongest to hit the country since 1979, flattened buildings and buckled highways along Ecuador's sparsely populated fishing ports and tourist beaches on the Pacific coast, the Washington Post reported, 100 miles or more from the headquarters of the five Ecuadorean missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Two of those missions are headquartered 105 miles away from the epicenter in Quito — the Quito and Quito North missions — and three are in farther away in Guayaquil — the Guayaquil North, South and West missions.
Despite the distance, the quake's deadly, devastating effect was felt in both of those cities.
At least two deaths reported in Guayaquil, where a child fell down stairs in a mall and another was killed when a bridge collapsed, according to the New York Times.
The quake rocked Quito for 40 seconds and collapsed at least six homes. It hit at 6:58 p.m. and was followed by powerful aftershocks throughout a fearsome night.
The church did not say how many Mormon missionaries are in Ecuador, but based on a raw average of 177 missionaries per mission, the church would have an estimated 750 to 1,000 Mormon missionaries in the country.
The LDS Church has 234,606 members in 307 congregations in Ecuador.
The church has a single temple in Ecuador.
The Guayaquil Ecuador Temple opened in 1999. Exactly two weeks ago, LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson announced another temple will be built in Quito.
Saturday's quake was so powerful it was felt as far away as Colombia and Peru, the BBC reported. Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, tweeted today that the death toll has reached 233. The government declared a state of emergency on Sunday and said people are trapped under rubble in multiple districts, but landslides are hampering efforts to mobilize rescue efforts by 10,000 troops and 3,500 police, the BBC said.
Ecuador straddles the equator on South America’s west coast. In addition to its Pacific coastal area, it includes parts of the Amazon jungle and Andes Mountain highlands, as well as the famed Galápagos Islands.
The quake in Ecuador was the third in three days along the Pacific.
On Thursday, a magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck near Kumamoto, Japan. On Friday, a magnitude-7.3 earthquake hit the same island, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. Those two quakes killed 41 people and injured about 1,500, flattened houses and triggered major landslides, the Associated Press reported.
Some geologists said the Ecuador quake was 20 times more powerful than those earthquakes in Japan.
No LDS missionaries were hurt in the Japanese quakes.