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7.4 quake shakes Mexico, 100s of homes damaged

By Katherine Corcoran

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 20 2012 9:41 p.m. MDT

People watch firefighters working to remove a cement beam that fell from a bridge onto a public mini-bus after an earthquake was felt in Mexico City, Tuesday March 20, 2012. A strong 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit central and southern Mexico on Tuesday, collapsing at least 60 homes near the epicenter and a pedestrian bridge in the capital where people fled shaking office buildings. There were no passengers in the mini-bus and the driver suffered minor injuries, according to firefighters.

Alexandre Meneghini, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MEXICO CITY — A strong 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico on Tuesday, damaging some 800 homes near the epicenter and swaying tall buildings and spreading fear and panic hundreds of miles away in the capital of Mexico City.

One of the strongest to shake Mexico since the deadly 1985 temblor that killed thousands in Mexico City, Tuesday's earthquake hit hardest in border area of southern Oaxaca and Guerrero states. In Guerrero, officials confirmed that some 800 homes had been damaged, with another 60 having collapsed.

Hours after the shaking at noon local time (18:02 GMT), there were still no reports of death or serious injury, even after a less powerful, magnitude-5.1 aftershock was felt in the capital and several other aftershocks near the epicenter in a mountainous rural region.

"It was very strong, very substantial," said Campos Benitez, hospital director in Ometepec, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) from the epicenter.

Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre, who is from Ometepec, was headed there to survey the damage and ordered emergency crews and civil protection to the area to help with the damage. The state did not say how many were displaced.

In Mexico City, frightened workers and residents poured into the streets of the capital. Telephone service was down in the city and throughout the area where the quake was felt and some neighborhoods were without power, according to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who set up a hotline for people to report damage.

A pedestrian bridge collapsed on an empty transit bus.

About 40 passengers were stranded for a short time on the Mexico City airport air train, but later released. The airport closed for a time but officials said there was no runway damage and they resumed operations.

Samantha Rodriguez, a 37-year old environmental consultant, was evacuated from the 11th floor on the Angel Tower office building.

"I thought it was going to pass rapidly but the walls began to thunder and we decided to get out," she said.

Mexico City, built on a lakebed, was badly damaged in 1985 when a quake killed at least 10,000 people. That quake was originally measured at 8.1, but is now put by the U.S. Geological Survey at 8.0. In past years, Guerrero has suffered several severe earthquakes, including a 7.9 in 1957 which killed an estimated 68 people, and a 7.4 in 1995 which left three dead.

Tuesday's quake was the strongest shaking felt in the capital since a magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck also in Guerrero in December. Officials said at least three people died in Guerrero, but there were no reports of widespread damage.

A magnitude-8.0 quake near Manzanillo on Mexico's central Pacific coast killed 51 people in 1995 and a magintude-7.5 quake killed at least 20 people in the southern state of Oaxaca in 1999.

In Huajuapan, Guerrero, near the epicenter, hotel manager Marco Antonio Estrada also reported shaken-up guests but no major damage. He said it was longest and strongest he ever felt. People ran out of their homes and cars.

"It was very strong, but we didn't see anything fall," said Irma Ortiz, who runs a guesthouse in Oaxaca. She said their telephones are down, and that the quake shook them side-to-side.

U.S. President Barack Obama's oldest daughter, Malia, was reported and safe while on vacation with a school group in Oaxaca.

The U.S. Geological Survey set the preliminary magnitude of the first quake at 7.4 and said the epicenter was 11 miles underground. The survey set the aftershock at 5.1.

Seismologists and civil protection officials said there didn't appear to be heavy damage or casualties because of where and how the earthquake hit.

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