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Ecuadorians vote overwhelmingly in referendum to approve toughening fight against gangs

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Ecuadorians vote overwhelmingly in referendum to approve toughening fight against gangs
News

News

Ecuadorians vote overwhelmingly in referendum to approve toughening fight against gangs

2024-04-22 12:23 Last Updated At:12:51

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s fledgling president got a resounding victory Sunday in a referendum that he touted as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

An official quick count showed that Ecuadorians overwhelmingly voted “yes” to all nine questions focused on tightening security measures, rejecting only two more controversial economic proposals.

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A voter casts her ballot during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s fledgling president got a resounding victory Sunday in a referendum that he touted as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence.

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

The quick count was announced by the head of the Electoral National Council, Diana Atamaint. It confirmed a private exit poll released hours before that indicated a resounding victory and sign of support for President Daniel Noboa, the scion of a wealthy banana exporting family.

Among the measures approved are President Noboa's call to deploy the army in the fight against the gangs, to loosen obstacles for extraditing accused criminals and to lengthen prison sentences for convicted drug traffickers.

Ecuador was traditionally one of South America's most peaceful countries, but it has been rocked in recent years by a wave of violence, much of it spilling over from neighboring Colombia, the world's largest producer of cocaine. Last year, the country's homicide rate shot up to 40 deaths per 100,000 people, one of the highest in the region.

Noboa has rallied popular support by confronting the gangs head on. That task became more urgent in January when masked gunmen, some on orders from imprisoned drug traffickers, terrorized residents and took control of a television station while it was live on the air in an unprecedented show of force.

Following the rampage, the 36-year-old president decreed an “internal armed conflict,” enabling him to use emergency powers to deploy the army in pursuit of about 20 gangs now classified as “terrorists.”

The referendum, in which more than 13 million Ecuadorians were called to vote, contained measures to extend those powers and put them on firmer legal ground.

For some analysts, the Ecuadorian leader must show results to live up to people’s support.

“This gives him some vigor,” said Andrea Endara, analyst and professor at Casa Grande University. But “if the president does not begin to take actions to demonstrate that having voted ‘yes’ brings results to reduce insecurity, this support will quickly be diluted.”

Some of the measures approved imply changes to Ecuador's constitution, but because they were previously endorsed by the Constitutional Court, Noboa only needs to publish them in the official gazette to go into effect. Some of those initiatives are the ones related to the use of the army and extradition.

For the changes that require changing some general laws, the president will have to send a reform proposal to the Assembly, which will have 60 days to process them.

Noboa, ahead of the final tally, celebrated the results. “We've defended the country,” he said in a message posted on social media. “Now we will have more tools to fight against the delinquent and restore peace to Ecuador's families.”

Noboa's law and order rhetoric recalls the policies of El Salvador's wildly popular president, Nayib Bukele, a fellow millennial, and could give him a boost politically as he prepares to run for reelection next year.

Noboa, is serving the final 18 months of a presidential term left vacant when fellow conservative Guillermo Lasso resigned amid a congressional investigation into allegations of corruption. Noboa was elected following a shortened but bloody campaign that saw one of his top rivals brazenly assassinated while campaigning.

“We can’t live in fear of leaving our homes,” Leonor Sandoval, a 39-year-old homemaker, said after voting for all 11 of the proposals.

A voter casts her ballot during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A voter casts her ballot during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Voters line up at a polling station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A soldier guars a pollen station during referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Children stand by a voter marking questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa arrives to vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A voter marks questions on the ballot of a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at crack down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Voters line up at a polling station during a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force officer votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa casts his vote in a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

A woman holds the ballot to vote in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

An Air Force soldier votes in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa to endorse new security measures aimed at cracking down on criminal gangs fueling escalating violence, in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

President Daniel Noboa holds the ballot during a referendum to endorse new security measures to crackdown on criminal gangs responsible for increasing violence, in Olon, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa arrives to the National Electoral Council to officially open voting for a referendum seeking support for new security measures to combat rising violence in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, April 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa, front right, and U.S. Ambassador Michael Fitzpatrick, front left, attend a ceremony at Cotopaxi airport to receive a Hercules aircraft donated by the U.S. government for operational missions, in Latacunga, Ecuador, March 25, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa waves as he arrives in Poalo, Ecuador, March 21, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers stand on armored vehicles as they patrol the streets during a national state of emergency decreed by President Daniel Noboa to confront a wave of crime, in Portoviejo, Ecuador, Jan. 11, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Ariel Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Soldiers on patrol frisk a man in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, Thursday, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A resident stands with arms spread apart up against a wall as police search for weapons and or drugs, as part of an operation to combat criminal groups, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 4, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, in a referendum touted by President Daniel Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Cesar Munoz, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - A woman reports a robbery to soldiers patrolling in the Carapungo neighborhood of Quito, Ecuador, April 18, 2024. Ecuadorians will vote on Sunday, April 21, in a referendum proposed by President Daniel Noboa that seeks to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

FILE - Ecuador President Daniel Noboa attends a ceremony to deliver equipment to police, at the Gral. Alberto Enriquez Gallo police school in Quito, Ecuador, Jan. 22, 2024. Ecuadorians head to the polls Sunday, April 21, 2024, in a referendum touted by Noboa as a way to crack down on criminal gangs behind a spiraling wave of violence. (AP Photo/Dolores Ochoa, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — More than 1,000 firefighters in New Mexico took advantage of a break in the weather on Thursday to get the upper hand — for now — on a pair of wildfires that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee.

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico, freeing up funding and more resources as crews worked to keep the flames from spreading. Their efforts have gotten a boost from a storm system that brought with it rain, hail and cooler temperatures to the mountain village of Ruidoso and other parts of the state.

“The fire has lost momentum,” Arthur Gonzales, the fire behavior analyst for the federal attack team, told residents at a community meeting in Alamogordo on Thursday night. “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s really changed that fire behavior," he said, noting that very little growth is expected over the next few days.

But firefighters know it's a brief respite given the dry tinderbox conditions that helped fuel the fires in the first place. Within days, the fires have consumed an area half the size of Washington, D.C.

“What we’re really focusing on now at this point, is when might we see this return to active fire spread?” Gonzales said. “Is there potential for this to start picking up and moving again?”

Federal and local officials said evacuation orders likely would remain in place for days in some places as crews snuff out hot spots around Ruidoso and law officers patrol streets to keep potential looters away.

Despite some reports that the fires were “human caused,” federal incident commander Dave Gessar said the causes are under investigation and remain “undetermined.”

The federal disaster declaration will help with recovery efforts, including temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property and other emergency work in Lincoln County and on lands belonging to the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Residents fled the larger of the two fires with little notice as it swept into neighborhoods on Monday. More areas were evacuated on Tuesday as the fire ballooned, consuming homes nestled among the the ponderosa pines that dominate the hillsides.

An estimated 1,400 structures have been destroyed or damaged, and Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford has estimated about half were homes. Whole portions of some communities were lost, he said.

“These are things that are burnt to the foundations and all the trees around it,” he said. “It’s devastating.”

Authorities say a 60-year-old man who died was found near the popular Swiss Chalet Inn in Ruidoso. His family said he had arranged for a ride from friends but they were unable to get to him Monday since the roads were blocked. It appeared he was overcome after he tried to set out on foot.

On Wednesday, officers discovered the skeletal remains of an unidentified second person in the driver's seat of a burned vehicle.

A couple of residents have been driving around Ruidoso and neighboring Alto, providing reports via social media of what they are seeing. There are neighborhoods where the ground was turned to ash, the trees were blackened and homes were reduced to their foundations, with only fireplaces remaining.

“I am speechless. I'm so sorry everyone,” said Logan Fle, as he drove down one road.

Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot in recent months. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped the flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso in a matter of hours. Evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional medical center and the Ruidoso Downs horse track.

Nationwide, wildfires have scorched more than 3,344 square miles (8,660 square kilometers) this year — a figure higher than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Nearly 20 wildfires burning in California, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state and elsewhere are considered large and uncontained.

Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

AP Ruidoso wildfires page: https://apnews.com/hub/ruidoso

Deep Blue, a winning race horse who was evacuated from Ruidoso Downs, rests at a stall in Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Deep Blue, a winning race horse who was evacuated from Ruidoso Downs, rests at a stall in Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Race horses that were evacuated from Ruidoso Downs rest at a stall in Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Race horses that were evacuated from Ruidoso Downs rest at a stall in Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Drake Thurman, 13, volunteers to care for a race horse who was evacuated from Ruidoso Downs to Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Drake Thurman, 13, volunteers to care for a race horse who was evacuated from Ruidoso Downs to Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Trainer John Stinebaugh inspects his horses after evacuating them from Ruidoso Downs to Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Trainer John Stinebaugh inspects his horses after evacuating them from Ruidoso Downs to Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Trainer John Stinebaugh inspects his horses after evacuating them from Ruidoso Downs to Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Trainer John Stinebaugh inspects his horses after evacuating them from Ruidoso Downs to Artesia, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A couple from Ruidoso, N.M. camps at the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Roswell, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A couple from Ruidoso, N.M. camps at the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds in Roswell, N.M., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Strong wind pushed the larger of two wildfires into the mountain village of Ruidoso, forcing residents to flee. One person was killed and hundreds of structures were damaged. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A Ruidoso resident checks a map on a screen while spending the night at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A Ruidoso resident checks a map on a screen while spending the night at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A Ruidoso resident sleeps at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A Ruidoso resident sleeps at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Residents of the Mescalero Apache Reservation rest while sheltering at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort in Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of residents fled their homes as a wildfire swept into the mountain village of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Residents of the Mescalero Apache Reservation rest while sheltering at the Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort in Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of residents fled their homes as a wildfire swept into the mountain village of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Smoke from a wildfire rises over Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Residents of the mountain village of about 7,000 residents fled their homes under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings. (Jacquie Escajeda via AP)

Smoke from a wildfire rises over Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Residents of the mountain village of about 7,000 residents fled their homes under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings. (Jacquie Escajeda via AP)

Smoke from a wildfire rises over trees in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Residents of the mountain village of about 7,000 residents fled their homes under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings. (Jacquie Escajeda via AP)

Smoke from a wildfire rises over trees in Ruidoso, N.M., Monday, June 17, 2024. Residents of the mountain village of about 7,000 residents fled their homes under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings. (Jacquie Escajeda via AP)

An air tanker drops fire retardant called slurry over and around wildfire-affected areas in the village of Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

An air tanker drops fire retardant called slurry over and around wildfire-affected areas in the village of Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

A car rides on the road to Roswell, N.M., as smoke from a wildfire partially blocks the sun near the village of Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

A car rides on the road to Roswell, N.M., as smoke from a wildfire partially blocks the sun near the village of Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Steven Dobrovolskis eats a slice of pizza while spending the night at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Steven Dobrovolskis eats a slice of pizza while spending the night at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

In this image taken from webcam footage provided by the Village of Ruidoso, smoke rises behind Ruidoso, N.M., on Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Village of Ruidoso Tourism Department via AP)

In this image taken from webcam footage provided by the Village of Ruidoso, smoke rises behind Ruidoso, N.M., on Monday, June 17, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (Village of Ruidoso Tourism Department via AP)

Ardis Holder, center, and her daughters Adalene, left, and Analece spend the night at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Ardis Holder, center, and her daughters Adalene, left, and Analece spend the night at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

An air tanker soars through a large plume of smoke over and around wildfire-affected areas in the village of Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

An air tanker soars through a large plume of smoke over and around wildfire-affected areas in the village of Ruidoso, N.M., Tuesday, June 18, 2024. (Chancey Bush/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows wildfires burning near Ruidoso, N.M. on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 (Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies via AP)

This satellite image released by Maxar Technologies shows wildfires burning near Ruidoso, N.M. on Wednesday, June 19, 2024 (Satellite image ©2024 Maxar Technologies via AP)

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