At least 58 people died when the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in over eight decades tore through buildings, forced mass evacuations and triggered alerts as far away as Southeast Asia, with most fatalities in the picturesque state of Oaxaca.
The 8.1 magnitude quake off the southern coast late on Thursday was stronger than a devastating 1985 temblor that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands.
This time damage to the city was limited as the quake was deeper and further from the capital.
“It almost knocked me over,” said Gildardo Arenas Rios, a 64-year-old security guard in Mexico City’s Juarez neighborhood, who was making his rounds when buildings began moving.
The southern town of Juchitan in Oaxaca state on Mexico’s narrowest point and near the epicenter, was hit particularly hard, with sections of the town hall, a hotel, a bar and other buildings reduced to rubble.
“The situation is Juchitan is critical; this is the most terrible moment in its history,” said mayor Gloria Sanchez after the long, rumbling quake that also shook Guatemala and El Salvador nearby to the south.
Shocked residents stepped through the rubble of about 100 collapsed buildings including houses, a flattened Volkswagen dealership and Juchitan’s battered town hall.
“Look at what it did to my house,” said Maria Magdalena Lopez, in tears outside its shattered walls. “It was horrifying, it fell down.”
Alma Rosa, sitting in vigil with a relative by the body of a loved one draped in a red shroud, said: “We went to buy a coffin, but there aren’t any because there are so many bodies.”
All the deaths were in three neighboring states clustered round the epicenter. In Oaxaca, 45 people died, in Chiapas 10 and in Tabasco three people lost their lives, said the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency head, Luis Felipe Puentes.
Chiapas’ Governor Manuel Velasco said 12 had died in Chiapas, which would bring the total to 60.
In Chiapas, home to many of Mexico’s indigenous ethnic groups, thousands of people in coastal areas were evacuated as a precaution when the quake sparked tsunami warnings.
Waves rose as high as 2.3 ft (0.7 m) in Mexico, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, though that threat passed.
State oil company Pemex said it was checking its installations for damage and closed the Salina Cruz refinery in the same region as the epicenter as a precautionary measure. It began to restart the 330,000 bpd refinery on Friday afternoon.
WOKEN IN THE NIGHT