04/17/2016 12:52 EDT

Ecuador Earthquake: Canadians Among Hundreds Killed

The two have not been named.

OTTAWA — Federal officials say two Canadians are among at least 233 people killed by a devastating earthquake in Ecuador.

Global Affairs Canada says consular officials are in contact with the families of the two Canadians, who have not been named.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake is the strongest to hit Ecuador since 1979, levelling buildings and buckling highways along the Pacific Coast of the South American country.

The quake was centred about 170 kilometres northwest of the capital, Quito.

President Rafael Correa has declared a national emergency and some 10,000 armed forces have been deployed to the earthquake region in addition to 4,600 national police.

Canadian embassy providing assistance

Global Affairs Canada has asked friends and relatives of those known to be travelling in Ecuador to contact their emergency response centre.

"I am saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life stemming from Saturday's devastating earthquake near the central coast of Ecuador which has already cost the lives of at least 233, including two Canadians,'' Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said in a release Sunday.

`"Canadian officials at our embassy in Quito are reaching out to Canadian citizens in-country and providing assistance to Canadians affected by the earthquake. We will continue to work with local authorities to assess impact and needs on the ground.''

A person takes pictures of a damaged building after an earthquake struck off Ecuador's Pacific coast. (Photo: Reuters)

Reports out of Ecuador said rescuers are struggling to reach survivors trapped in the ruins of fallen buildings.

Shanty towns and cheaply constructed brick and concrete homes were reduced to rubble along the quake's path, while in Guayaquil a shopping centre's roof fell down and a collapsed highway overpass crushed a car. In Manta, the airport closed after the control tower collapsed, injuring an air traffic control worker and a security guard.

The quake was felt in neighbouring Colombia and more than 135 aftershocks followed, including a magnitude-5.6 aftershock.

— With files from The Associated Press