A strong earthquake shook southern and central Mexico on Friday, causing panic less than six months after two devastating quakes that killed hundreds of people.
No buildings collapsed, according to early reports, but two towns near the epicenter in the southern state of Oaxaca reported damage and state authorities said they had opened emergency shelters.
Later in the day, a helicopter on its way to the scene carrying Mexican Minister of the Interior Alfonso Navarrete and the governor of Oaxaca crash landed, killing two people on the ground even as the passengers survived, although some suffered injuries.
Navarrete told the Televisa network the pilot of the military helicopter lost control of the aircraft at a height of about 40m as it was coming in to land.
Mexico’s National Seismological Service and the US Geological Survey put the quake’s magnitude at 7.2.
It triggered Mexico City’s alarm system and caused buildings to sway in the capital.
It was also felt in the states of Guerrero, Puebla and Michoacan.
Panicked residents flooded into the streets, fearing a repeat of the two quakes in September last year that caused buildings to collapse and killed a 465 people.
“To be honest, we’re all pretty upset. We start crying whenever the [earthquake] alarm goes off,” 38-year-old publicist Kevin Valladolid said through tears after evacuating from his building in La Roma, in central Mexico City.
“We’re stressed out, we have flashbacks. So we run out into the street. It’s all we can do,” he said.
On the north side of the city, Julia Hernandez said she felt like she was “in a boat” as the ground swayed beneath her feet.
“Is it ever going to stop?” she said.
Standing in the middle of the street, her eyes glued to her fifth-floor apartment, Graciela Escalante, 72, could hardly speak.
“It was terribly strong. We barely managed to get down the stairs. It was the longest staircase in the world,” she said. “We thought everything was going to collapse again.”
Officials in affected states said they were inspecting buildings damaged by last year’s quakes, which are especially vulnerable to collapse.
“Obviously people are afraid,” Puebla emergency response chief Gustavo Ariza said.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tweeted that the National Emergency Committee had been activated because of the magnitude of the quake.
In Oaxaca, authorities reported some structural damage to buildings in two towns, Pinotepa Nacional and Santiago Jamiltepec.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera reported “very minor” damage in the capital.
That included reports of a wall that collapsed in the upscale Condesa neighborhood, which was hit hard by last year’s quakes.
Friday’s earthquake struck at a relatively deep 24.7km, the US Geological Survey said, adding that the temblor’s epicenter was 37km northeast of Pinotepa de Don Luis in Oaxaca.
A magnitude 5.9 aftershock hit nearly an hour later.
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