“The losses are millions. I calculate them roughly at $3,000 million and around 3 percent of our gross domestic product”, Rafael Correa said, adding that reconstruction will take years.

Correa, who cut short a visit to Italy to return home after the quake, is visiting hard hit areas to evaluate the damage.

“These have been the hardest days of my life, but things like this give us encouragement to go ahead”, he said via Twitter in response to support from a resident.

Correa acknowledged a long fight ahead but encouraged Ecuadorians to not lose hope.

“We rebuild Manabi once and we will do it again. This is an enormous tragedy but the bravery of the Ecuadorian people is biggest”, he said.

Correa lamented the loss of life and noted that in the town of Canoa, in the north, was one of the most affected by the earthquake “because 80 percent of this space has disappeared.”

The magnitude-7.8 quake struck Saturday evening on the northern coast of Ecuador, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

More than 15,000 police and military personnel, 83 buses, five helicopters and trained dogs are working to locate and rescue victims who are trapped under destroyed buildings.

But access to devastated areas is hampered by roads that were split apart when the quake hit.

It was the strongest tremor in the South American country since 1979.

Anadolu Agency