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Death toll now at 58 as Mexico reels from biggest earthquake in a century

A powerful 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico late last night.
Sep 8th 2017, 7:13 AM 44,481 41

Updated at 10.18pm

Mexico Earthquake Debris from a collapsed wall sits in Oaxaca, Mexico after last night's earthquake. Source: Luis Alberto Cruz via AP

The death toll from a powerful earthquake that struck Mexico has risen to at least 58 people, the country’s disaster response agency said today.

“The National Emergency Committee is currently reporting 58 deaths from the 7 September earthquake,” the agency’s director, Luis Felipe Puente, wrote on Twitter: 45 in the state of Oaxaca, 10 in Chiapas and three in Tabasco.

The Chiapas governor reported 12 deaths there, however. Officials warned the toll could continue to rise as rescue workers search for bodies in the rubble in the three southern states that were hardest hit.

The quake hit offshore in the Pacific at 1.49 pm (4.49am GMT), about 100 kilometres from the coastal town of Tonala, in far southern Chiapas state, Mexico’s seismologic service said.

“It was a major earthquake in scale and magnitude, the strongest in the past 100 years,” said President Enrique Pena Nieto in an address from the National Disaster Prevention Center’s headquarters, where he was supervising the emergency response.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) put the magnitude slightly lower, at 8.1. That is the same as a devastating 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people in Mexico City – the country’s most destructive ever.

In the capital, people ran out of buildings – many in their pyjamas – after hearing warning sirens go off just before midnight (5am GMT).

“Not another one. God, please no,” said one woman, falling to her knees to pray.

“I was driving when the ground started to shake. The car was wobbling,” said Cristian Rodriguez, a 28-year-old Uber driver in Mexico City.

Mexico Earthquake People who evacuated from bars during an earthquake stand in the street in La Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. Source: Rebecca Blackwell via AP

The quake shook a large swath of the country and was felt as far north as Mexico City – some 800 kilometres from the epicentre – where people ran from their homes as buildings trembled and swayed.

Fatalities

Authorities initially declared a tsunami alert stretching all the way south to Ecuador, but lifted it several hours later.

Officials said four people were killed in Chiapas, near the epicentre.

In neighbouring Tabasco state, two children were killed, the governor said.

One was crushed by a collapsing wall. The other, an infant on a respirator, died after the quake triggered a power outage.

Mexico Earthquake Debris from a collapsed wall sits in Oaxaca, Mexico. Source: AP via AP

The worst destruction appeared to be in Juchitan, in the state of Oaxaca, where 17 people were killed, according to Oaxaca governor Alejandro Murat.

Officials said the death toll there could rise.

“There are houses that collapsed with people inside,” Luis Felipe Puente, the agency’s director general, told TV news channel Milenio.

A hotel also collapsed in Juchitan, the town hall partly caved in and many houses were badly damaged.

Tsunami alert lifted

Pena Nieto said 50 million of Mexico’s 120 million people felt the quake.

It was also felt in much of Guatemala, which borders Chiapas.

Mexican officials ordered schools to remain closed today in 11 states, including Mexico City, so they could inspect for structural damage.

The quake struck at a depth of 69.7 kilometres, according to the USGS.

Mexico Earthquake A general view of Mexico City after the earthquake. Source: Rebecca Blackwell via AP

Initially, authorities issued a tsunami alert for a huge stretch of coastline starting in central Mexico and spanning Central America all the way down to Ecuador.

It was later lifted, but Mexico remained on alert for aftershocks.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had originally said a tsunami of more than three metres was possible.

In the end, the quake caused rough seas but no tsunami, officials said.

Since the 1985 earthquake, Mexican authorities have instituted a stricter building code and developed an alert system using sensors placed on the coasts.

Mexico sits atop five tectonic plates, whose movement makes it one of the most seismically active countries in the world.

© AFP 2017

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