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They were organising my funeral but I've been reborn, says earthquake survivor

Published 19/04/2016

Earthquake survivor Pablo Rafael Cordova Canizares at the Verdi Cevallos Balda hospital in Portoviejo, Ecuador (AP)
Earthquake survivor Pablo Rafael Cordova Canizares at the Verdi Cevallos Balda hospital in Portoviejo, Ecuador (AP)

A man who was pulled alive from the rubble after the devastating earthquake which struck Ecuador has told how his wife had already bought a coffin for his funeral.

Hotel administrator Pablo Cordova was one of a trickle of survivors pulled from the debris after Ecuador's strongest earthquake in decades flattened towns along the coast and killed more than 400 people.

Mr Cordova's wife had given up on ever seeing the 51-year-old again after the five-storey Gato de Portoviejo hotel in Portoviejo collapsed on him on Saturday, flattened by the magnitude-7.8 earthquake like the rest of the city centre.

She asked his boss to help her buy his coffin.

But Mr Cordova held out for 36 hours beneath the rubble, drinking his own urine and praying service would be restored before his mobile phone battery died.

He was finally able to call his wife on Monday afternoon and was pulled from the wreckage soon after by a team of rescuers from Colombia.

"They were organising the funeral, but I've been reborn," Mr Cordova said, grinning from beneath his bushy moustache in a provincial hospital.

"I will have to give that coffin back because I still have a long way to go before I die."

On Tuesday, teams from all over the world fanned out across the country's Pacific coastline to look for the dozens of people still missing.

Residents joined in with their bare hands, increasingly desperate as the clock for finding survivors runs down.

Peruvian rescuers take part in the search for survivors in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian rescuers take part in the search for survivors in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian rescuers pause their search for survivors during a tremor in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A soldier patrols the streets of Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A woman cries as she waits for news of her loved ones in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian rescuers search for survivors in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian rescuers pray as they search for survivors in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
View of a house destroyed in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
People wait for news of their loved ones in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers and residents search for victims in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian rescuers work after a 7.8-magnitude quake at the Tarqui Neigborhood in Manta, Ecuador on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers and residents search for victims in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Residents receive supplies in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Soldiers distributed supplies in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Soldiers distributed supplies in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers and residents search for victims in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Peruvian rescuers reast during the search for survivors in Manta, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A man carries a sack of fruit onto a truck in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Residents evacuate their belongings in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Rescuers and residents search for victims in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
A man removes rubble in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
A Honduran military police officer carries donations to be sent to the quake victims in Ecuador, in Tegucigalpa on April 18, 2016. Honduras will send a group of specialists to Ecuador Monday to help in the rescue works. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRAORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Destroyed houses are brought down for precaution in Jama, in the Ecuadorean coastal province of Manabi, on April 18, 2016 two days after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 18, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / Juan CevallosJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
A mannequin lies amid the rubble caused by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, in La Chorrera, Ecuador, Monday, April 18, 2016. The Saturday night quake left a trail of ruin along Ecuadors normally placid Pacific Ocean coast. At least 350 people died and thousands are homeless. President Rafael Correa said early Monday that the death toll would surely rise, and in a considerable way. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A member of Ecuador's Special Operations Group searches for survivors in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, two day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 19, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Firefighters remove a body recovered from a destroyed building felled by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Monday, April 18, 2016. The Saturday night quake left a trail of ruin along Ecuadors normally placid Pacific Ocean coast. At least 350 people died and thousands are homeless. President Rafael Correa said early Monday that the death toll would surely rise, and in a considerable way. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd
Soldiers search for survivors in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, two day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 19, 2016. Rescuers and desperate families clawed through the rubble Monday to pull out survivors of an earthquake that killed 350 people and destroyed towns in a tourist area of Ecuador. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
A man, his home destroyed by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, sleeps in his uncle's boat docked along the shore, in La Chorrera, Ecuador, Monday, April 18, 2016. The Saturday night quake left a trail of ruin along Ecuadors normally placid Pacific Ocean coast. At least 350 people died and thousands are homeless. President Rafael Correa said early Monday that the death toll would surely rise, and in a considerable way. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
A man, whose wife and unborn son were killed during a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, recovers belongings from his collapsed home, in La Chorrera, Ecuador, Monday, April 18, 2016. The Saturday night quake left a trail of ruin along Ecuador's normally placid Pacific Ocean coast. At least 350 people died and thousands are homeless. President Rafael Correa said early Monday that the death toll would "surely rise, and in a considerable way." (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)
TOPSHOT - Picture taken in Pedernales, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016 a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers in Ecuador raced to dig out victims trapped under the rubble of homes and hotels on Sunday after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 235. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOT - The sun sets in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 17, 2016. The toll from the big earthquake in Ecuador rose on Sunday to 246 dead and 2,527 people injured, the country's vice president said. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
A man and his son rest at the shelter in Manta, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016 a day after a powerful 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. The toll from the big earthquake in Ecuador rose on Sunday to 246 dead and 2,527 people injured, the country's vice president said. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Residents sleep under a makeshift tent outside the emergency center in the town of Portoviejo, Ecuador, Sunday, April 17, 2016. Parts of Ecuador have been devastated by the country's strongest earthquake in decades, as the death toll continues to rise and people left homeless prepare to sleep outside for second straight night. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Picture taken in Manta, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016 a day after a powerful 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. The toll from the big earthquake in Ecuador rose on Sunday to 246 dead and 2,527 people injured, the country's vice president said. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Picture showing the destruction in Manta, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016 a day after a powerful 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. The toll from the big earthquake in Ecuador rose on Sunday to 246 dead and 2,527 people injured, the country's vice president said. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A vehicle rolls on a cracked route after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Chone, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 246 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOSJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Ecuadorean Veronica Paladines, removes rubble in search for her husband at Tarqui neigbourhood in Manta, Ecuador on April 17, 2016 a fay after a powerful quake hit the country. The toll from the big earthquake in Ecuador rose on Sunday to 246 dead and 2,527 people injured, the country's vice president said. / AFP PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images
A rescuer works in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 17, 2016. Rescuers in Ecuador raced to dig out victims trapped under the rubble of homes and hotels on Sunday after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 246. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
The sun sets in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 17, 2016. The toll from the big earthquake in Ecuador rose on Sunday to 246 dead and 2,527 people injured, the country's vice president said. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
A girl waits in Pedernales, Ecuador, on April 17, 2016 a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country. Rescuers in Ecuador raced to dig out victims trapped under the rubble of homes and hotels on Sunday after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 246. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Rescue workers search the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Gauyaquil, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
A rescue worker searches the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Gauyaquil, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
Picture taken in one of Ecuador's worst-hit towns, Pedernales, a day after a 7.8-magnitude quake hit the country, on April 17, 2016. Rescuers in Ecuador raced to dig out victims trapped under the rubble of homes and hotels on Sunday after a powerful 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed at least 246. / AFP PHOTO / RODRIGO BUENDIARODRIGO BUENDIA/AFP/Getty Images
Buildings barely left standing after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOSJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
Aeril view taken by a drone after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO/AFP/Getty Images
Aeril view taken by a drone after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / Pablo COZZAGLIOPABLO COZZAGLIO/AFP/Getty Images
Rescue workers search the rubble after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Guayaquil, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 235 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS ACOSTALUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
People watch a collapsed house in Guayaquil on April 17, 2016. At least 41 people have been killed by the powerful earthquake that struck western Ecuador on Saturday and the toll will likely rise further, the country's Vice President Jorge Glas said. / AFP PHOTO / JOSE SANCHEZ LJOSE SANCHEZ L/AFP/Getty Images
View of a fallen building after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOSJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images
People walk along a street after a 7.8-magnitude quake in Portoviejo, Ecuador on April 17, 2016. At least 77 people were killed when a powerful earthquake struck Ecuador, destroying buildings and a bridge and sending terrified residents scrambling from their homes, authorities said Sunday. / AFP PHOTO / JUAN CEVALLOSJUAN CEVALLOS/AFP/Getty Images

"Since Saturday, when this country started shaking, I've slept only two hours and haven't stopped working," said Juan Carranza, one of the firefighters leading the rescue effort in Portoviejo.

In the port city of Manta, a group of about 50 rescuers working with trained dogs, hydraulic jacks and a drill managed to free eight people trapped for more than 32 hours in the rubble of a shopping centre that was flattened by Saturday night's quake.

While the country cheered videos of such rescues, tragedy continued to mount.

At the same shopping centre, authorities were working to free a woman they had found buried alive with a heavy concrete slab pinning her legs when an aftershock forced them to suspend the effort.

When they returned, the debris pile had moved and the woman was dead, said Angel Moreira, a firefighter co-ordinating the effort.

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