The number of people killed by the 8.2-magnitude quake that hit the southern coast of Mexico late Thursday has risen to at least 61, with witnesses saying they cannot remember an earthquake this terrible. Three days of mourning have been declared.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the quake was “the largest registered in our country in at least the past 100 years.” He said in a televised address Friday night that at least 45 people were killed in Oaxaca, 12 in Chiapas, and four in Tabasco.
La fuerza de la naturaleza puede ser devastadora,pero la fuerza de la unidad y la solidaridad de los mexicanos es mucho mayor. #FuerzaMéxicopic.twitter.com/OVYfdgWKav— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) 8 сентября 2017 г.
But the actual death toll could be over 80, AFP reports, citing local state officials. Over 200 people were injured across Mexico, officials say.
A rescue operation is still under way, as emergency workers in the southern region, hit hardest by the quake, are hoping to pull more survivors from the ruins of Mexico’s most powerful earthquake in a century.
Desperate searches for survivors are still going on in the rubble of houses, churches, and schools that were torn apart.
One Mexico City resident told ABC she sat vigil by the body of a loved one draped in a red shroud.
“We are holding vigil for her here because we went to purchase her coffin but there are none left because of how many people were killed,” Alma Rosa said.
Oaxaca resident Rosa Esteva Luis said when she arrived at her mother’s house, “she was crying.”
“And my neighbor had the ceiling fall on top of his head, I don't know if he is alive,” she said.
In Juchitan, local residents described the quake in apocalyptic terms.
“It was all horrific. Everything collapsed, everything,” Maria Magdalena Lopez recalled. “The truth [is] I have no words to explain what happened. Look at my home, everything is destroyed.”
In the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, two children were among the dead. One was crushed by a collapsing wall; another, an infant on a respirator, died after the quake triggered a power outage, AFP reports.
Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near the town of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, told AP that his house “moved like chewing gum.”
Around 428 homes were destroyed and 1,700 damaged in various cities and towns in Chiapas, the Interior Department said.
“Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed,” Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, toldAP.
At least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins of the hardest-hit city – Juchitan, Oaxaca – with roofs, cables, insulation, and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.
People gathered around Juchitan’s wrecked town hall, where two policemen were trapped in the rubble. Rescuer workers managed to pull out one person and were still trying to save the other 18 hours after the quake, AFP reported.
“God, let him come out alive!” a woman cried, as four cranes and a dozen trucks removed what remained of the building’s ruined wing.
Vidal Vera, 29, was one of 300 policemen digging through the rubble in an effort to find survivors.
“I can’t remember an earthquake this terrible,” he told AFP.
“The whole city is a disaster zone right now. Lots of damage. Lots of deaths. I don’t know how you can make sense of it. It’s hard. My sister-in-law’s husband died. His house fell on top of him,” he added.
“The priority in Juchitan is to restore water and food supplies and provide medical attention to those affected,” Nieto tweeted on Saturday.
Mexico’s seismology service estimated the quake at 8.2 magnitude. The US Geological Survey put it at 8.1.
One of the reasons earthquakes in this area cause so much damage is the ground beneath. Mexico City is built on a sedimentary basin. This is a valley where the rock is soft and loose, meaning the shaking is amplified. It also means aftershocks can continue to cause damage after the main earthquake has struck.
“The shaking is stronger, so the buildings will shake more,” Galloway says. “We’ve had quite a lot of reports that buildings have collapsed. A lot of the time, the earthquake itself releases a lot of the stress from the rocks, but not all. Usually what happens is that aftershocks occur.
“One of the dangers from aftershocks is that buildings already damaged from the main shock will be quite unstable now. Even if they haven’t collapsed, they will be more unstable so smaller earthquakes can cause further damage to those buildings. Seismologists will be monitoring for those as they come in.”
The largest observed earthquake in the region was a magnitude 8.6 in Oaxaca in 1787. Two other earthquakes of magnitude 8 or over were recorded in the 20th century—a magnitude 8.1 in 1932 and a magnitude 8 in 1985. The 1985 earthquake hit near the capital Mexico City, killing thousands and injuring many more.
At least 60 people died when the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in over eight decades tore through buildings and forced mass evacuations in the poor southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, triggering alerts as far away as Southeast Asia.
The 8.1 magnitude quake off the southern coast late Thursday was stronger than a devastating 1985 temblor that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands.
The Oaxacan town of Juchitan on Mexico's narrowest point bore the brunt of the disaster, with sections of the town hall, a hotel, a church, a bar and other buildings reduced to rubble.
"The situation is Juchitan is critical; this is the most terrible moment in its history," the local mayor, Gloria Sanchez, said a few hours before President Enrique Pena Nieto flew to the battered town to oversee rescue efforts.
Facades of shattered buildings, fallen tiles and broken glass from shop fronts and banks littered the pavements of Juchitan while heavily armed soldiers patrolled and stood guard at areas cordoned off due to the extent of the damage.
Startled residents stepped through the rubble of about 100 wrecked buildings, including houses, a flattened Volkswagen dealership and Juchitan's shattered town hall. Scores paced the terrain or sat outside warily, mindful of the frequent aftershocks.
Rescue workers searched through the night for anyone trapped in collapsed buildings, but the toll appeared to be less severe than that seen in some far less powerful tremors.
The magnitude 8.2 earthquake that ravaged southern Mexico on Thursday was the largest to shake the country in nearly a century.
Like California, Mexico is a seismically active region that has seen smaller quakes that have caused death and destruction. But Thursday’s temblor is a reminder that even larger quakes — while rare — do occur.
Scientists say it’s possible for Southern California to be hit by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake. Such a quake would be far more destructive to the Los Angeles area because the San Andreas fault runs very close to and underneath densely populated areas.
The devastating quakes that hit California over the last century were far smaller than the Thursday temblor, which Mexican authorities set at magnitude 8.2 and the U.S. Geological Survey placed at 8.1. Mexico’s earthquake produced four times more energy than the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a magnitude 7.8, which killed 3,000 people and sparked a fire that left much of the city in ruins.
Southern California’s most recent mega-quake was in 1857, also estimated to be magnitude 7.8, when the area was sparsely populated.
Here's what a hypothetical magnitude 8.2 earthquake would look like in Southern California -- a quake that begins near the Mexican border and moves north and west through L.A. County into central California. (Los Angeles Times)
A magnitude 8.2 earthquake would rupture the San Andreas fault from the Salton Sea — close to the Mexican border — all the way to Monterey County. The fault would rupture through counties including Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino.
An 8.2 earthquake would be far worse here because the San Andreas fault runs right through areas such as the Coachella Valley — home to Palm Springs — and the San Bernardino Valley, along with the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles. The fault is about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
Thursday’s earthquake occurred in the ocean off the Mexican coast and began about 450 miles from Mexico City — and it was relatively deep, starting about 43 miles under the surface.
In Mexico, “you’ve got [many] people a pretty long way aways from it,” seismologist Lucy Jones said Friday. But in Southern California, “we’d have a lot of people right on top of it. It would be shallow, and it runs through our backyard.”
A magnitude 8.2 on the San Andreas fault would cause damage in every city in Southern California, Jones has said, from Palm Springs to San Luis Obispo.