Mexico earthquake death toll rises to 58

  • 09/09/2017
Part of a destroyed wall is pictured after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso - RC1121DED6D0
Photo credit: Reuters

At least 58 people have died after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in over eight decades tore through buildings and forced mass evacuations.

Most of the fatalities were in the picturesque state of Oaxaca following the 8.1 magnitude quake that triggered alerts as far away as south-east Asia.

The tremor off the southern coast late on Thursday (local time) was stronger than the devastating 1985 quake that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands.

This time damage to the city was limited.

"It almost knocked me over," said Gildardo Arenas Rios, a 64-year-old security guard in Mexico City's Juarez neighbourhood, who was making his rounds when buildings began moving.

The town of Juchitan on Mexico's narrowest point and near the epicentre, 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.

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 neighbouring states clustered round the epicentre. 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 70cm in Mexico, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said, though that threat passed.

People ran into the streets in Mexico City, one of the world's largest cities with an estimated population of more than 20 million, and alarms sounded after the quake struck just before midnight.

John Bellini, a geophysicist at the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado, said Thursday's quake was the strongest in Mexico since an 8.1 tremor struck the western state of Jalisco in 1932.