Mexico was hit on Friday by a massive 8.2-magnitude earthquake, described by the President as the country’s strongest in a century, killing at least 15 people and triggering a series of tsunami waves.
The quake struck 120 km off the Pacific Coast at 12.49 a.m., southwest of Tres Picos, Mexico, which is 1,000 km southeast of Mexico City, the US Geological Survey (USGS) reported. A tsunami warning was issued for Mexico, with three-metre-high waves possible, and other nearby countries.
The epicentre of the earthquake was off the coast of Chiapas, a state in southern Mexico, but the rumblings rocked the Mexican capital more than 600 miles away, causing electricity failures, and reports of sporadic damage. Local broadcaster Televisa, citing information from southern Mexico, said up to 15 people were killed, the Washington Post reported.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake measured 8.2 and was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years whereas the US Geological Survey put the magnitude at 8.1.
About 50 million people across the country felt the earthquake. The force sent residents of the megacity fleeing into the streets at midnight, shaken by the alarms blaring over loudspeakers and a full minute of tremors.
Windows broke, walls collapsed, and the city seemed to convulse in terrifying waves. The quake even rocked the city’s landmark Angel of Independence monument. The effects in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca were probably more severe.
Four people died in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas state, including two women when their building collapsed, Governor Manuel Velasco told Milenio TV, adding that the quake also damaged hospitals and schools.
Two children died in neighbouring Tabasco state, including an infant who perished when hospital electricity failed and the ventilator went off, said Governor Arturo Nunez. Local officials in Oaxaca said residents there remain buried under the rubble of buildings. Details on damage from remote areas were not clear, raising the possibility that the death toll could rise, officials said.
The effects were also felt in Guatemala, where at least one person died and homes along the border with Mexico were levelled. Many people sustained injuries in the 7.3 quake that hit the country just hours after the one in Mexico.
Schools in at least 10 Mexican states were ordered closed on Friday as the President ordered an immediate assessment of the damage nationwide. In the hours after the quake, the National Seismological Service registered several aftershocks.
“We are assessing the damage, which will probably take hours, if not days,” said Nieto, who addressed the nation just two hours after the quake. “But the population is safe over all. There should not be a major sense of panic.”
Mexican authorities alerted the coastal states of Oaxaca and Chiapas of the possibility of destructive waves of higher than 13 feet.
The US Tsunami Warning System said hazardous tsunami waves were possible on the Pacific coasts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras within three hours.
The quake comes a few days before the anniversary of the earthquake of September 19, 1985, that killed over 40,000 people in Mexico City.
At least 12 aftershocks with tremors measuring above 5.0 in magnitude and a fifth at 4.9 were recorded and some 23,000 people likely experienced the violent shaking, according to the USGS.