Major Earthquake Hits Central Mexico

Tuesday, September 19th 2017, 4:02 pm
By: News On 6

A powerful earthquake jolted central Mexico on Tuesday, cracking building facades and scattering rubble on streets in the capital on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake.

At least 61 people are dead following the earthquake as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust and thousands fled into the streets.

Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez said at least 42 died in his state south of Mexico City, with 12 dead in Jojutla and four in the state capital of Cuernavaca.

Gov. Alfredo del Mazo said at least eight had died the State of Mexico. Earlier, he told the Televisa news network that two people had died. He said a quarry worker was killed when the quake unleashed a rockslide and another person was killed by a falling lamppost.

At least 11 others died in Puebla, according to Francisco Sanchez, spokesman for the state's Interior Department.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles southeast of Mexico City. 

The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets, but the full extent of the damage was not yet clear. 

Puebla Gov. Tony Galil tweeted that there had been damaged buildings in the city of Cholula including collapsed church steeples.

In Mexico City, thousands of people fled office buildings and hugged to calm each other along the central Reforma Avenue as alarms blared, and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument.  

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said there are reports of people trapped in collapsed buildings, though the number is not clear. He told the Televisa network that 20 or more buildings collapsed or suffered serious damage.

When the quake hit, freelance reporter Manuel Rueda was walking outside a bank in the city's financial district when buildings began to shake. "People here are are used to encountering these types of situations, but this time, I definitely sensed more fear from people," he said on CBSN. 

In the Roma neighborhood, which was struck hard by the 1985 quake, piles of stucco and brick fallen from building facades littered the streets. Two men calmed a woman seated on a stool in the street, blood trickling from a small wound on her knee. 

At a nearby market, a worker in a hardhat walked around the outside warning people not to smoke as a smell of gas filled the air. 

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother. 

Pictures fell from office building walls, objects were shaken off of flat surfaces and computer monitors toppled over. Some people dove for cover under desks. Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city's normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down. 

Video on social media showed debris falling from Mexico City's National Employment Service building. Residents can be heard screaming and crying as some ran away from the building.

President Trump tweeted his support for Mexico on Tuesday afternoon: "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you."

Earlier in the day, workplaces across the city held preparation drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.1 shake, which killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of Mexico City. 

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil is known to amplify the effects of earthquakes even hundreds of miles away. 

"Aftershocks are definitely a problem because Mexico city itself is based on a lake, parts of Mexico City are sinking, therefore it doesn't take much to cause buildings to fall and ruin a heavily populated area," Michio Kaku, a theoretical physicist, said on CBSN.

The city's international airport suspended operations Tuesday, tweeting that airport personnel are checking the structures for damage. It wasn't immediately clear how many flights have been affected.

Earlier this month, dozens were killed after another earthquake struck, off Mexico's southern coast. It toppled hundreds of buildings, triggering tsunami evacuations and sending panicked people fleeing into the streets in the middle of the night.

Don Blakeman, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey, said on CBSN that Mexico is very seismically active and the two earthquakes aren't necessarily related. 

Initial calculations show that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday's quake. The U.S. Geological Survey predicts "significant casualty and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread."