Police, soldiers and emergency workers raced to rescue survivors from the ruins of Mexico’s most powerful earthquake in a century, which killed at least 61 people, as Tropical Storm Katia menaced the country’s east yesterday.
In the southern region hit hardest by the quake, emergency workers looked for survivors and bodies in the rubble of buildings that were torn apart in the magnitude 8.2 quake.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said 45 people were killed in Oaxaca, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco.
However, the actual death toll could be over 80, according to figures reported by state officials.
Adding to the concerns, authorities warned that another massive aftershock could follow within 24 hours of the first quake.
Pena Nieto toured the hardest-hit city, Juchitan in Oaxaca, where at least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins. The city’s eerily quiet streets were a maze of rubble, with roofs, cables, insulation and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.
Photo: AFP PHOTO / PRESIDENCIA
A crowd had formed at Juchitan’s partially collapsed town hall, a Spanish colonial building where two policemen were trapped in the rubble. Rescuers managed to extract one and were still working to save the other 18 hours after the quake.
“God, let him come out alive!” a woman said as she watched four cranes and a fleet of trucks remove what remained of the building’s crumbled wing.
A hotel mostly collapsed and many homes were badly damaged in the predominantly indigenous town of 100,000 people, which is tucked into the lush green southern mountains near the coast.
Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat Hinojosa said tens of thousands of ration packs, blankets and cleaning kits were arriving, along with 100 federal police reinforcements with rescue dogs to search for people in the wreckage.
“The priority in Juchitan is to restore water and food supplies and provide medical attention to those affected,” Pena Nieto tweeted after visiting the devastated town.
The president described the quake as “the largest registered in our country in at least the past 100 years” — stronger even than a devastating 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people in Mexico City.
More than 200 people were injured across Mexico, officials said.
The epicenter of the quake, which hit late on Thursday, was in the Pacific Ocean, about 100 kilometers off the town of Tonala in Chiapas.
The quake was felt as far north as Mexico City — about 800 kilometers from the epicenter — where people fled their homes, many in their pajamas, after hearing sirens go off.
Officials initially issued a tsunami alert, but later lifted it. However, the quake triggered waves that reached as far as New Zealand, more than 11,000 kilometers away.
Authorities said small tsunami waves of up to 40 centimeters were recorded on the far-flung Chatham Islands, with 25 centimeter surges on the New Zealand coast, about 15 hours after the quake.
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