A powerful 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico’s Pacific coast on Tuesday, killing at least six people, cutting off isolated villages, and causing tremors hundreds of kilometres away in Mexico City.
The fatalities were near the quake’s epicentre in Oaxaca, a mountainous state known for its coffee, mescal and Spanish colonial architecture.
A Reuters witness in the tourist town of La Crucecita saw anxious residents standing outside their homes on the streets many hours after the tremor as they feared deadly aftershocks.
Many houses were scarred by huge cracks across walls and residents sought to clear debris from the streets, the Reuters witness added. About 200 houses in the area were damaged, including 30 that were badly impacted, a local official said.
“We lost everything in one moment to nature,” said Vicente Romero, an owner of a stationery store whose house suffered vast structural damage. “This is our life’s work.”
Rockfalls blocked the winding mountain roads between the state capital of Oaxaca City and the coast. Rescue workers have not reached all villages reported to have suffered damage, raising fears that more people may be hurt.
A Oaxaca state official said rescue workers were trying to get to the settlement of Santa Catarina Xanaguia, near the epicenter, where the quake brought down homes or parts of the mountainside, trapping people. People had sent messages for help by phone, the official added.
The dead included a worker from state oil company Pemex, who suffered a bad fall, Mexico’s civil protection agency said. Pemex was forced to briefly shutter the country’s biggest oil refinery in Oaxaca.
The quake triggered a small tsunami on the Oaxaca coast. The country’s seismological service said the sea level rose 60 centimetres at Huatulco beach, normally a popular destination for U.S. and Canadian tourists but quieter now due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador said there had been more than 140 aftershocks, most of them small.
“We couldn’t walk… the street was like chewing gum,” said Miguel Candelaria, 30, who was working at his computer in his family home in the Oaxaca town of Juchitan when the ground began to tremble.
He said he ran outside with relatives, but they had to stop in the middle of the street as the pavement buckled and rocked.
Neighbours screamed in terror and some shouted out warnings to run from electricity poles that looked poised to fall, said Candelaria, who works in telecommunications marketing.
Shaking in Mexico City
In Mexico City, buildings shook strongly and people ran into the streets when an early warning seismic alarm sounded.
Two people were injured and more than 30 buildings in the capital suffered damage, officials said, including buildings still scarred from a 2017 earthquake that killed 355 people in the capital and the surrounding states.
Water from rooftop pools or tanks cascaded down residential buildings in the city, and construction workers on the 56th story of a new residential tower clung to each other as it swayed, images on social media showed.
Quakes of such size can be devastating. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck central Mexico in 2017 killed 355 people in the capital and the surrounding states.
Helicopters flew low over the Roma and Condesa districts of the capital, apparently looking for damage in streets where many buildings still show the scars of the 2017 quake. The city’s public security ministry said a flyover showed “there are no fallen buildings.”
The USGS said the epicentre of Tuesday’s quake was located 69 kilometres northeast of the town of Pochutla. It was very shallow, only 26 kilometres below the earth’s surface, which would have amplified the shaking.
Mexico has an early warning system for earthquakes which covers many regions of central and southern Mexico, including most of Oaxaca.
Mari Gonzalez of the Princess Mayev hotel in Huatulco said staff and guests were able to evacuate the building before the quake, but that 45 minutes after the initial quake they were still outside as strong aftershocks continued.
“It was strong, very strong,” she said.
Gonzalez said there was some visible broken glass and mirrors, but no major damage. The staff was waiting for the aftershocks to dissipate before fully evaluating the property.
Situated at the intersection of three tectonic plates, Mexico is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries. The capital is seen as particularly vulnerable due to its location on top of an ancient lake bed.