The shallow quake, the strongest since 1979 to hit Ecuador, hit 16 miles from Muisne, a fishing area popular with tourists, according to the US Geological Survey.
Jorge Glas, Ecuadorian Vice President, said that there were initial reports of 41 dead in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo and Guayaquil – all several hundred miles from the original site where the quake struck shortly after nightfall.
As reports arrived from the worst-hit areas, it became obvious that the quake did more damage than was earlier thought. Death toll could still go higher, according to reports.
"We’re trying to do the most we can but there’s almost nothing we can do," said Gabriel Alcivar, mayor of Pedernales, a town of 40,000 near the epicentre.
This wasn’t just a house that collapsed, it was an entire town."
Among those killed was the driver of a car crushed by an overpass that buckled in Guayaquil, the country’s most populous city. As dozens of buildings collapsed, the Mayor appealed to rescuers to help anyone who might be trapped, and stop anyone taking advantage of the chaos to loot shops and homes.