- Magnitude 8.2 earthquake hits off Mexico
- Tsunami waves of 3.3 feet measured
- At least five dead, including two children
- Frightened Mexico City residents gather in streets
- Blackouts in capital
A rare and powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico late Thursday, killing at least five people as seismologists warned of a tsunami of more than 10 feet.
The quake hit offshore in the Pacific about 75 miles southwest of the town of Tres Picos in far southern Chiapas state, the US Geological Survey said, putting the magnitude at 8.1.
Mexico’s president said the earthquake magnitude was 8.2, the strongest in a century in the country.
The country’s seismologic service initially gave a magnitude of 8.4, which if confirmed would be the most powerful ever recorded in this quake-prone country.
The quake shook a large swath of the country and was felt as far north as Mexico City – 600 miles from the quake epicenter – where people ran out of their homes in their pajamas as buildings trembled and swayed.
A tsunami warning and the prospect of aftershocks kept the nation on alert.
“Based on all available data … widespread hazardous tsunami waves are forecast for some coasts,” the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said.
“Tsunami waves reaching more than three meters above the tide level are possible along the coasts of Mexico,” it said, with lower waves in other countries.
The tsunami warning was for the coasts of Mexico, down through Central America into Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras, and as far south as Ecuador.
The quake was felt in much of Guatemala, which borders Chiapas.
President Enrique Pena Nieto ordered schools to remain closed Friday in Chiapas and Mexico City so officials could inspect for structural damage.
He said on Twitter he was overseeing the emergency response from the National Disaster Prevention Center’s headquarters.
In Mexico City, people ran out of buildings after hearing earthquake warning sirens go off just before midnight (6am UK time Friday).
The quake struck at a depth of 21 miles, the USGS said.
It is the strongest to hit quake-prone Mexico at least since 1985, when an 8.1-magnitude earthquake in Mexico City killed more than 10,000 people.
The authorities have since instituted a stricter building code and developed an earthquake alert system using sensors placed on the coasts.
Mexico sits atop five tectonic plates, whose movement makes it one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.
No reports of deaths in Guatemala
Guatemala was also hit by the earthquake, striking the country at 10.52pm local time on Thursday.
But officials say that so far there are no reports of deaths, despite many houses suffering partial collapses in towns near the border with Mexico such as San Marcos.
Schools will remain closed on Friday as a precaution in three departments: Quetzaltenango, San Marcos and Suchitepéquez.
Puerto Madero evacuated
The ‘Plan Marina’ – a national body set up to aid civilians during natural disasters or national emergencies, has been helping to evacuate Mexico’s southernmost port, Puerto Madero, in advance of an incoming tidal surge.
Fears of a tsunami have been quelled by President Pena Nieto after he said on national television that “the tsunami risk on the Chiapas coast does not represent a major risk. It’s not very big. It’s not a major worry.”
Angel of Independence sways during quake
BuzzFeed News in Mexico has obtained some striking footage of the Angel of Independence, an icon of Mexico City, swaying during the earthquake.
In the 1957 during an earthquake which killed dozens in the capital, the Angel fell.
It was very much the symbol of the disaster, and a traumatising blow to Mexicans. So the Angel is now closely watched during every earthquake.
Mexican president addresses nation via Twitter
The Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has been tweeting in the last few minutes. In a series of messages he said:
“According to the latest evaluation, the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.2, the strongest in nearly a century.
“Unfortunately there are deaths reported, and I send my deepest condolences to the families.
“Tomorrow classes are suspended in Mexico City, Chiapas, Guerrero, Higaldo, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, Tlaxcala and Veracruz in order to inspect the school buildings.
“At 3am, the CFE (Mexican state electricity provider) reported 1.85 million users affected. 1.38 million of those (74%) already have their power back.
“It is recommended that people check gas installations, and the state of walls and columns. Report any defects to the authorities.
“Pay attention to the news from The National Office for Civil Protection, because there could be a repeat of the quake in the next 24 hours.
“The national emergency committee is working to evaluate the damage and coordinate the action to best take care of the population.
He said an estimated 50 million people felt the earthquake.”
Hotel collapses in Oaxaca
Authorities in Mexico say that a hotel in Oaxaca has collapsed, but no one from the building has been reported dead.
Civil Defense photos showed the crumbling facade of the Anel hotel in Matias Romero. 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.
School and university classes suspended
Jamie Johnson reports:
The Mexican Education Secretary Aurelio Nuño has been tweeting, saying that nurseries, schools and universities in the states of Tabasco, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Edomex, Puebla, Hidalgo, Morelos and even as far away as Veracruz, on the gulf of Mexico will see classes suspended today.
In a statement, Mr Nuño said that the measure had been taken to “guarantee the safety of students, teachers, administrative personnel and families.”
Buildings in Oaxaca reduced to rubble
Some of the worst initial reports of the earthquake came from Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where sections of the town hall, a hotel, a bar and other buildings were reduced to rubble.
Rescue workers labored through the night in badly affected areas to check for people trapped in collapsed buildings.
More information about Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state
Jamie Johnson reports:
Chiapas is Mexico’s southernmost state and also its poorest. Chiapas has the highest poverty rate in the country – standing at 74.7 per cent according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) in 2014 – and the median income is less than half the national average.
Made up of a great mix of indiginous communities, speaking different Mayan languages, its three million inhabitants rely mainly on tourism for its modest income.
Despite heavy investment in infrastructure, the population has not been lifted out of poverty.
The state has mountainous highlands and thick rainforest in the south, where it borders Guatemala. There are numerous Mayan ruins in Chiapas including the UNESCO world heritage site of Palenque – where there was a pre-hispanic city.
The state capital Tuxtla Gutierrez welcomed Pope Francis in February last year and he celebrated mass with indiginous locals, speaking in Spanish as well as saying prayers in three native languages.
The state is no stranger to earthquakes, with warning systems in place and alerts on public radio, but there has not been an earthquake of this size in the last century, according to President Enrique Pena Nieto.
Recently there has been a tourism drive, with a promotional video for the state garnering more than 1,000 retweets from the President’s account.
Dozens of aftershocks
James Badcock writes that local media is reporting that schools will remain closed today in many southern and central states of Mexico.
The National Seismology Service said that in the two hours following the initial earthquake, there were 61 aftershocks up to a magnitude of 6.1.
President Enrique Peña Nieto has asked people not to panic, and the government is warning against the spreading of unofficial rumours.
Mr Peña Nieto said that 1.5 million people had lost their electricity supply immediately after the earthquake, but that half of these had now had power restored.
He said that aftershocks of up to 7.0 on the Richter scale were still possible.
Tsunami waves of 3.3 feet measured
Tsunami waves have been measured off Mexico’s Pacific coast.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says waves of 1 metre (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 metre or less.
No threat was posed to Hawaii and the western and South Pacific.
Five dead, including two children
The death toll in Mexico has risen to at least five people, including two children in Tabasco state.
Tabasco Governor 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.
The governor of Chiapas says that at least three people have been killed in his region.
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:
“There are damages in hospitals that have lost energy. Homes, schools and hospitals have been affected.”
In neighbouring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales spoke on national television to call for calm while emergency crews checked for damage. Local radio in the Central American country reported one death, but it could not be confirmed.
“We have reports of some damage and the death of one person, even though we still don’t have exact details,” Morales said.
He said the possible death occurred in San Marcos state near the border with Mexico.
‘The house moved like chewing gum’
Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, a poor largely indigenous state popular with tourists, described the moment the quake struck.
“The house moved like chewing gum and the light and internet went out momentarily.”
Civil Defence in Chiapas said on its Twitter account that its personnel were in the streets aiding people and warned residents to prepare for aftershocks. But it made no immediate comment about damage.
‘It felt horrible’
In one central neighbourhood, dozens of people stood outside after the quake, some wrapped in blankets against the cool night air. Children were crying.
Liliana Villa, 35, was in her apartment when the earthquake struck and she fled to the street in her pyjamas.
“It felt horrible, and I thought, ‘this is going to fall’.”
The earthquake also rattled large parts of Guatemala. Residents in the city of Quetzaltenango say they are without electricity and firefighters are assessing the extent of the damage.
Countries under tsunami threat
The U.S. Tsunami Warning System said the earthquake was a potential tsunami threat to several Central American countries, including the Pacific coastlines of Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica.
It said the threat was still being evaluated for Hawaii, Guam and other Pacific islands.
People fled to streets
People in Mexico City ran out into the streets after the quake struck, a Reuters witness said.
Its epicentre was 123 km (76 miles) southwest of the town of Pijijiapan, at a depth of 33 km (21 miles). Widespread, hazardous tsunami waves were possible, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre said.