JUCHITAN, Mexico (AP) — One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico and a raging hurricane dealt a devastating one-two punch to the country, killing at least 61 people as workers scrambled to respond to the twin national emergencies.
The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states. Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.
In downtown Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses onto sidewalks to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors. Some were newly homeless, while others feared further aftershocks could topple their cracked adobe dwellings.
“We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbors on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”
Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and winds.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center reported Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph (120 kph), making it a Category 1 storm when it made landfall. And it rapidly weakened even further over land into a tropical storm. The center said Katia now is stalling over Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains and the maximum sustained winds are now down to near 40 mph (65 kph). It was expected to continue to dissipate over the course of Saturday.
But the storm could still bring life-threatening floods and a storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of Katia’s impact was unclear in the dark of night.
Pena Nieto announced that the earthquake killed 45 people in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and 4 in Tabasco, and he declared three days of national mourning. The toll included 36 dead in Juchitan, located on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where a hospital and about half the city hall also collapsed into rubble.
Next to Ortiz, 47-year-old Jose Alberto Martinez said he and family members have long been accustomed to earthquakes. So when the ground started moving, at first they simply waited a bit for it to stop — until objects began falling and they bolted for the…