Death toll rises to at least 61 in Mexico earthquake
One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico struck off the country’s southern coast, toppling hundreds of buildings and sending panicked people fleeing into the streets in the middle of the night. At least 61 people were reported dead.
The quake that hit Thursday was strong enough to cause buildings to sway violently in the capital city more than 650 miles away. As beds banged against walls, people still wearing pajamas ran out of their homes and gathered in frightened groups.
Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, the state nearest the epicenter, said his house “moved like chewing gum.”
The furious shaking created a second national emergency for Mexican agencies already bracing for Hurricane Katia on the other side of the country. The system was expected to strike the Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz early today as a Category 2 storm that could bring life-threatening floods.
The head of Mexico’s civil defense agency confirmed the deaths of 45 people in the southern state of Oaxaca. Another 12 people died in Chiapas and three more in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco.
The worst-hit city appeared to be Juchitan, on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus. About half of the city hall collapsed in a pile of rubble, and streets were littered with the debris of ruined houses.
Mexico’s capital escaped major damage, but the quake terrified sleeping residents, many of whom still remember the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city.
Families were jerked awake by the grating howl of the capital’s seismic alarm. Some shouted as they dashed out of rocking apartment buildings. Even the iconic Angel of Independence Monument swayed as the quake’s waves rolled through the city’s soft soil.
Elsewhere, the extent of destruction was still emerging. Hundreds of buildings collapsed or were damaged, power was cut at least briefly to more than 1.8 million people and authorities closed schools Friday in at least 11 states to check them for safety.
The earthquake’s impact was blunted somewhat by the fact that it was centered 100 miles offshore. It hit off Chiapas’ Pacific coast, near the Guatemalan border with a magnitude of 8.1 – equal to Mexico’s strongest quake of the past century. It was slightly stronger than the 1985 quake, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The epicenter was in a seismic hotspot in the Pacific where one tectonic plate dives under another. These subduction zones are responsible for producing some of the biggest quakes in history, including the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the 2004 Sumatra quake that spawned a deadly tsunami.