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UPDATE: Powerful Earthquake Off Southern Mexico Kills More Than 50 People

The quake hit as Mexican emergency agencies were bracing for another crisis on the other side of the country. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Katia was likely to strike the Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz early Saturday as a Category 2 storm that could bring life-threatening floods.

Soldiers remove debris from a partly collapsed municipal building, which was felled by a massive earthquake, in Juchitan, Oaxaca state, Mexico, on Friday.
Soldiers remove debris from a partly collapsed municipal building, which was felled by a massive earthquake, in Juchitan, Oaxaca state, Mexico, on Friday.

Updated at 4:55 p.m. ET

The most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in decades struck late Thursday off the country’s southern coast and could be felt hundreds of miles away in the capital. The 8.1 magnitude temblor is blamed for killing more than 50 people near the epicenter.

The quake triggered fears of a tsunami and was followed by at least 20 aftershocks. It came as the country was already bracing for Hurricane Katia, which is expected to make landfall in the state of Veracruz on Saturday as a Category 2 storm.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter was located 102 miles west of Tapachula in Chiapas, not far from Guatemala, at a depth of about 43 miles.

The USGS put the magnitude at 8.1, matching the strength of a powerful earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985, killing thousands of people. However, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said it measured 8.2, bigger than the 1985 quake. That would make it the strongest in well over a century.

“Unfortunately, there are reports of deaths,” Peña Nieto tweeted. “My heartfelt condolences to the families.”

The president said 1.85 million users had lost electricity but that 1.38 million had their power restored after earthquake-related outages.

“We are assessing the damage, which will probably take hours, if not days,” Peña Nieto told the nation hours after the quake struck, adding that the “population is safe” and there was no need for panic.

Reporter Emily Green in Mexico City, 650 miles from the epicenter, tells Morning Edition that she was on the street when she heard an earthquake warning klaxon and felt the ground shake. “It lasted a long time. It felt like more than a minute, but it was probably a minute.”

Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near the city of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas state, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying his house “moved like chewing gum and the light and Internet went out momentarily.”

In Mexico City, power went out in several neighborhoods and windows were shattered at the main airport, according to Reuters. However, the capital appeared to have escaped any major damage.

At least 23 people were killed in the state of Oaxaca, Gov. Alejandro Murat Hinojosa told local media. Hundreds of buildings near the quake were reportedly toppled.

The governor of Chiapas, Manuel Velasco Coello, said three people were killed in San Cristobal, including two women in a house collapse. “There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy,” he said, according to the AP. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged.”

Two children were reportedly killed in neighboring Tabasco state, one when a wall collapsed. The other was a baby on a ventilator who died when a children’s hospital lost power, the AP says.

Reuters reports that a number of buildings in parts of southern Mexico were severely damaged.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning System said waves of 3.3 feet above tide level were measured off Salina Cruz, Mexico, and smaller waves elsewhere. Hazardous tsunami waves were also possible on the Pacific coasts of several Central American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras, within three hours.

Authorities in the state of Chiapas are assessing the damage. Civil Defense in the state said on Twitter that it was sending teams out to help people and warned them of possible aftershocks.

In neighboring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales said there were reports of damage and at least one death.

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9:40 a.m.

The death toll from Mexico’s huge earthquake has risen to 32.

Oaxaca state Gov. Alejandro Murat told local news media Friday that at least 23 people in his state died after the magnitude 8.1 quake that hit just before midnight.

Civil defense officials say at least seven people died in the state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala. Two others died in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco.

 

Paige Phelps former Houston Matters producer, who is currently in Mexico City for a bi-national radio broadcast, with KJZZ in Phoenix, spoke with us about her experience during the earthquake.

 

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7:45 a.m.

The quake that struck Mexico overnight matches the force of a magnitude 8.1 quake that hit the country on June 3, 1932, roughly 300 miles (500 kilometers) west of Mexico City.

study by Mexico’s National Seismological Service says that quake is believed to have killed about 400 people, causing severe damage around the port of Manzanillo.

A powerful aftershock that hit 19 days later caused a tsunami that devastated 15 miles 25 kilometers of coastline, killing 75 people.

Both the Mexican and U.S. services say Friday night’s quake matches the magnitude of the 1932 temblor. The U.S. Geological Survey puts both at 8.1 while, though the Mexican seismologists calculate them at 8.2. It’s common for different agencies to arrive at slightly different calculations of quake magnitude.

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6:45 a.m.

Mexico’s civil defense chief says the death toll from the earthquake that hit off southern Mexico has risen to at least 15.

Luis Felipe Puente told the Televisa network that 10 had died in Oaxaca state, three in Chiapas and two in Tabasco.

The magnitude 8.1 quake struck shortly before midnight Friday near the Guatemala border.

 

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5 a.m.

Authorities in Mexico say they are evacuating residents in Puerto Madero in Chiapas as a precaution due to a tsunami alert put in place after a major earthquake struck the country.

Chiapas’ civil protection agency tweeted that the evacuation was underway and posted photos of residents getting off a truck and going into what appeared to be a shelter. No further details have been provided.

A tsunami warning was put in place after the earthquake hit Mexico’s southern coast. The U.S. Geological Survey says that the quake had a magnitude of 8.1, while Mexico’s president says it was 8.2. At least five deaths have been confirmed in Mexico, with the death toll expected to rise.

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3:50 a.m.

Authorities in Mexico say that a hotel in Oaxaca has collapsed in the major earthquake that hit the country, but no one has been reported dead.

Civil Defense photos showed the crumbling facade of the Anel hotel in Matias Romero and split in half. President Enrique Pena Nieto said no one was reported dead at the hotel.

Earlier, Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat said that some people were able to escape from the hotel and authorities were working to determine if they were any casualties or missing people.

Pena Nieto says that the magnitude of the earthquake that hit the country is 8.2, the biggest the country has seen in a century.

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2:50 a.m.

Mexico’s president says that the magnitude of the earthquake that hit the country is 8.2, the biggest the country has seen in a century.

Enrique Pena Nieto confirmed that at least five people have died in the temblor. He also said that major damage has been caused and that 1 million initially had been without power following the quake, but that electricity had been restored to 800,000 of them.

He said that there have been 62 aftershocks and it’s possible one as strong as 7.2 could hit.

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that the quake had a magnitude of 8.1. It hit off the coast of southern Mexico, toppling houses in Chiapas state, causing buildings to sway violently as far away as the country’s distant capital and setting off a tsunami warning.

2:20 a.m.

Tsunami waves have been measured off Mexico’s Pacific coast after a major earthquake.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says waves of 1 meter (3.3 feet) above the tide level were measured off Salina Cruz. Smaller tsunami waves were observed on the coast or measured by ocean gauges in several other places.

The center’s forecast said Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala could see waves of a meter or less.

No threat was posed to Hawaii and the western and South Pacific.

An 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of southern Mexico, toppling houses in Chiapas state, causing buildings to sway violently as far away as the country’s distant capital and setting off a tsunami warning.

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2 a.m.

The death toll in the massive earthquake in Mexico has risen to at least five people, including two children in Tabasco state.

Tabasco Gov. Arturo Nunez said that one of the children died when a wall collapsed, and the other was a baby who died in a children’s hospital that lost electricity, cutting off the supply to the infant’s ventilator.

The other three deaths were in Chiapas state, in San Cristobal de las Casas.

An 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of southern Mexico, toppling houses in Chiapas state, causing buildings to sway violently as far away as the country’s distant capital and setting off a tsunami warning.

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1:35 a.m.

The governor of the Mexican state of Chiapas says that at least three people have been killed in his region in a massive earthquake that hit off the country’s coast.

Gov. Manuel Velasco told Milenio TV that the deaths occurred in San Cristobal de las Casas. He also said that the quake damaged hospitals and schools.

An 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of southern Mexico, toppling houses in Chiapas state, causing buildings to sway violently as far away as the country’s distant capital and setting off a tsunami warning.

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12:15 a.m.

A powerful earthquake is shaking Mexico’s capital city, causing people to flee swaying buildings and knocking out lights to part of the city.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.0 and its epicenter was 165 kilometers (102 miles) west of Tapachula in southern Chiapas state. It had a depth of 35 kilometers.

Even in distant Mexico City the quake was felt so strongly that frightened residents gathered in the streets in the dark, fearing buildings would collapse.

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