Thursday 19 October 2017

Death toll continues to rise as strongest earthquake in a century strikes Mexico

Soldiers help children to get on a truck as residents are evacuated from their coastal town after an earthquake struck off the southern coast, in Puerto Madero, Mexico. Photo: Jose Torres/Reuters
Soldiers help children to get on a truck as residents are evacuated from their coastal town after an earthquake struck off the southern coast, in Puerto Madero, Mexico. Photo: Jose Torres/Reuters

Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City

At least 60 people were killed after a massive 8.2 magnitude earthquake, one of the biggest recorded in Mexico, struck off the country's southern coast late on Thursday, causing cracks in buildings and triggering a small tsunami.

The quake was apparently stronger than a devastating 1985 temblor that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands; this time, damage to the city was limited. It is believed to be the strongest quake in 100 years.

A number of buildings suffered severe damage in parts of southern Mexico. Some of the worst initial reports came from the town of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where sections of the town hall, a hotel, a bar and other buildings were reduced to rubble.

Alejandro Murat, the state governor, said 23 deaths were registered in Oaxaca, 17 of them in Juchitan.

A spokesman for the emergency services said seven people were also confirmed dead in the neighbouring state of Chiapas. Earlier, the governor of Tabasco, Arturo Nunez, said two children had died in his state.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake had its epicentre in the Pacific Ocean, 87km southwest of the town of Pijijiapan in the impoverished southern state of Chiapas, at a depth of 70km.

Rescue workers were employed throughout the night in badly affected areas to check for people trapped in collapsed buildings.

Windows were shattered at Mexico City airport and power went out in several neighbourhoods of the capital, affecting more than a million people. The cornice of a hotel came down in the southern tourist city of Oaxaca.

The tremor was felt as far away as neighbouring Guatemala.

The quake triggered waves as high as 2.3ft in Mexico, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said, and authorities evacuated some coastal areas.

President Enrique Peña Nieto said the tsunami risk on the Chiapas coast was not major.

"We are alert," he told local television.

More aftershocks were likely, the president said, advising people to check their homes and offices for structural damage and for gas leaks. The USGS reported multiple aftershocks, ranging in magnitude from 4.3 to 5.7.

Classes were suspended in most of central and southern Mexico yesterday to allow authorities to review damage.

There was no tsunami threat for American Samoa and Hawaii, according to the US Tsunami Warning System. The national disaster agency of the Philippines put the country's eastern seaboard on alert, but no evacuation was ordered.

People in Mexico City, one of the world's largest cities, ran out into the streets in pyjamas and alarms sounded after the quake struck just before midnight.

Helicopters buzzed overhead a few minutes later, apparently looking for damage to buildings in the city, which is built on a spongy, drained lake bed.

"I had never been anywhere where the earth moved so much. At first I laughed, but when the lights went out, I didn't know what to do," said Luis Carlos Briceno (31), an architect.

In one central neighbourhood, dozens stood outside after the quake, some wrapped in blankets against the cool night air. Children were crying.

Liliana Villa (35), who was in her apartment when the quake struck, fled to the street in her nightclothes.

"It felt horrible, and I thought, 'this (building) is going to fall'," she said.

State oil company Pemex said it was still checking for damage at its installations.

Mr Peña Nieto said that operations at the Salina Cruz Refinery in the same region as the epicentre had been temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure.

Irish Independent

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