MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We begin this evening with news from Ecuador. Last night the country was hit by one of the strongest earthquakes in decades. Ecuador's president today said the death toll stands at more than 230, and it is expected to rise. Joining us from Quito, Ecuador's capital, is Thomas Hollywood. He's director of Catholic Relief Services in South America. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm so sorry this is what brings us together.
THOMAS HOLLYWOOD: Thank you very much, Michel, for the opportunity.
MARTIN: Now, Ecuador is in the Andes and it's accustomed to earthquakes but the magnitude of this one - 7.8 - its effect was particularly powerful. What can you tell us about the scope of the destruction so far?
HOLLYWOOD: I think what really would put the whole scenario into a clearer picture is basically you're looking at insult to injury because these areas are primarily Afro-Ecuadorians, which is a population that has been marginalized. This is an area that's very poor and vulnerable with limited services. I'd say an inadequate infrastructure. We have roads that have been ripped up, that have been cracked, that are not passable. We have many homes that have either been completely destroyed or the damage has been so severe that they can no longer be habited. So it's a very difficult situation.
MARTIN: Have you - have you been able to get any information from the area to this point?
HOLLYWOOD: You know, unfortunately it's been very difficult. Last night, the networks - the cellphone, telephone networks collapsed, access to the area has been hampered because of landslides and roads that have been ripped up or damaged because of the earthquake. We're trying to get in touch with our local church partners - local Catholic Church partners there. That's the - our approach for Catholic Relief Services to work with local partners when possible, but we haven't been able to get a lot of information. But we hope to send out an assessment team to figure out what's going on - what are the urgent needs - by tomorrow.
MARTIN: You mentioned the heavy rains from El Nino at this time, so I would assume then that landslides are also a concern at this point.
HOLLYWOOD: Very much. The soil - the land is very saturated, it's very unstable. So with an earthquake that would cause more damage. And then also a lot of the housing in this area because it is poor and vulnerable is also very susceptible to collapse.
MARTIN: So Mr. Hollywood, before we let you go, you are experienced in the region and with earthquakes - I want to mention that you are part of recovery efforts after an earthquake caused great destruction in Peru in 2007. So just based on your experience, can you just tell us a little bit about what the immediate needs are in Ecuador and what are they going to be in the coming days?
HOLLYWOOD: Yeah, just from this afternoon Michel, we learned from government officials that the immediate needs are going to be emergency shelter. So we're looking at tents and providing those sorts of materials quite quickly to the affected populations. Secondly, we're probably looking at water needs. We've gotten reports from a CRS colleague that is in the area that communities are without running water. And then also because of the poverty and normally families that struggle to feed their families as it is, food items will also be a high priority. So those are the three areas that we will initially assess and plan accordingly.
MARTIN: That's Thomas Hollywood of Catholic Relief Services. We reached him via Skype in Quito. Mr. Hollywood, thanks so much for speaking with us.
HOLLYWOOD: You're welcome. Thank you very much, Michel. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.