Mexico’s strongest earthquake in a century leaves dozens dead

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(CNN) — At least 32 people have died after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck off the country’s southern coast.

The magnitude-8.1 quake, which was felt as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City, was registered off Mexico’s southern coast just as heavy rains from Hurricane Katia lashed the east. The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean, some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) southeast of the capital and 74 miles (120 kilometers) from the Pacific coast.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years.

It hit late Thursday, when many people were asleep. The states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, home to about 9 million people, are located closest to the earthquake’s epicenter. They are two of the most impoverished areas in Mexico, and were likely hit the hardest.

Twenty-three people were killed in Oaxaca state, its governor, Alejandro Murat, and the foreign ministry told CNN. Seven others died in Chiapas state and two died in Tabasco, local and federal officials said.

Latest updates

— A red alert was issued by the US Geological Survey (USGS) PAGER system, which predicts economic and human loss after earthquakes. “High casualties and extensive damage are probable and the disaster is likely widespread. Past red alerts have required a national or international response,” it said.

— The USGS reported multiple aftershocks, including at least six with tremors measuring above 5.0 in magnitude.

— The quake had a depth of 69.7 kilometers (43 miles), according to the USGS, which makes it particularly shallow, said Jana Pursely, a geophysicist at the USGS. That means more intense shaking.

— A tsunami was confirmed in Mexico, with one wave coming in at 3 feet (1 meter), according to a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Tsunami waves taller than 10 feet (3 meters) could hit the coast of Mexico, while 3-foot waves could reach as far as Ecuador, New Zealand and Vanuatu, it said.

— Mexico’s Army, Marines and Federal Police were mobilized to respond, Peña Nieto said. “Civil protection protocols are activated, including the National Emergency Committee,” he tweeted.

— About 1.85 million homes lost electricity, but 74% of them have had service returned, Peña Nieto said. Some people lack water service, and it may take 36 to 48 hours to get it back up and running.

— Toppled buildings could be seen on video shared on social media from the city of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where a local councilwoman said coworkers were trapped in the municipal building. A hospital there also collapsed, and patients were seen on another video receiving treatment in an open field.

— Four people may be trapped inside a collapsed hotel in Oaxaca, Oaxaca Civil Protection Director Amado Bohorquez told CNN.

Chiapas hit hard

Gonazalo Segundo was awoken by the shaking.

“I was already in bed. I was in my place, so we were expecting to have a tranquil night but suddenly … everything breaks apart, glasses, furniture and everything,” he told CNN by phone from Chiapas.

“We have experienced earthquakes before, but not like this. It was so intense,” Segundo said. “We are alive, that’s the important thing.”

Pursely, of the USGS, told CNN she expects damage along the coast, meaning a costly cleanup could be on the way, adding that these types of shallow quakes have the potential to be very dangerous.

CNN attempted to contact two seaside hotels in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, but the lines appeared to be down.

Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco told Foro TV that there have been reports of damage, including hospitals that have lost power and buildings with collapsed roofs. School was canceled Friday, he said.

Mexico City shakes

Videos on social media showed significant tremors in various parts of the country, as well as major damage to buildings and infrastructure. Traffic lights could be seen shaking, videos showed.

It appears even Mexico’s capital, hundreds of miles away, was not spared the quake’s tremors. Parts of the city were without power, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said in an interview on Foro TV.

Paulina Gomez-Wulschner was driving in Mexico City when the quake struck. She heard an earthquake alarm go off on the radio, parked her car and joined others who stood in the middle of the street to avoid falling objects.

“This was a very, very strong earthquake, one of the strongest I’ve felt, and I was here in 1985 when that earthquake collapsed Mexico City,” she told CNN. “It was very scary.”

Gomez-Wulschner said she could hear sirens, ambulances and helicopters in the aftermath but did not see any immediate damage near her.

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