A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 93 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust and thousands fled into the streets in panic.
The quake came less than two weeks after another quake left 90 dead in the country’s south, and it occurred as Mexicans commemorated the anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed thousands.
Mexican media broadcast images of multiple downed buildings in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby Cuernavaca. A column of smoke rose from a structure in one central neighbourhood in the capital.
Rescue workers rushed to the site of damaged or collapsed buildings in the capital, and reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble.
Rescuers immediately called for silence so that they could listen for others who might be trapped.
Gala Dluzhynska said she was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on the trendy Alvaro Obregon avenue when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.
She said she fell on the stairs and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up.
“There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks,” she said.
They reached the bottom only to find it barred. A security official finally came and let them out.
People were trapped inside various buildings that caught fire in Mexico City, a civil protection official told local TV.
The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets, but the full extent of the damage is not yet clear. Mexican media broadcast images of several collapsed buildings in heavily populated parts of the city.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake was centred near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 123 kilometres southeast of Mexico City.
Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez reported on Twitter that at least 54 people had died in his state south of Mexico City.
At least 11 others died in Puebla state, according to Francisco Sanchez, spokesperson for the state’s Interior Department.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera says at least four people died in the capital.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said 27 buildings had collapsed in Mexico City.
Gov. Alfredo del Mazo told the Televisa news network that two people died in the State of Mexico, which also borders the capital: a quarry worker who was killed when the quake unleashed a rockslide and another person who was hit by a falling lamppost.
Puebla Gov. Tony Galil tweeted that buildings had been damaged in the city of Cholula, including collapsed church steeple.
In Mexico City, thousands of people fled office buildings and hugged to calm each other along the central Reforma Avenue as alarms blared, and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument.
In the Roma neighbourhood, which was struck hard by the 1985 quake, piles of stucco and brick fallen from building facades littered the streets. At least one large parking structure collapsed. Two men calmed a woman seated on a stool in the street, blood trickling from a small wound on her knee.
At a nearby market, a worker in a hard hat walked around the outside warning people not to smoke as the smell of gas filled the air.
Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.
Pictures fell from office building walls, objects were shaken off of flat surfaces and computer monitors toppled over. Some people dove for cover under desks. Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city’s normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.
Reuters reports that the Mexico City airport and the stock exchange suspended operations after the quake.
Earlier in the day, workplaces across the city held preparation drills on the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake, a magnitude 8.1 quake that killed at least 5,000 people and devastated large parts of Mexico City.
Twelve days ago, shortly before midnight on Sept. 7, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico, killing almost 100 people. The epicentre of that quake was offshore of Chiapas in southern Mexico.
Much of Mexico City is built on a former lake bed, and the soil is known to amplify the effects of earthquakes even hundreds of kilometres away.
The 7.1 magnitude earthquake was too far from the larger quake 12 days ago to be an aftershock and appears to be a separate and unrelated event, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle. The epicentres of the two quakes are 650 kilometres apart and most aftershocks are within 100 kilometres, Earle said.
Tuesday’s quake was at a known tectonic fault, but not at the edges of two moving plates, like many strong earthquakes, Earle said. This fault was inside the Cocos plate, which about 300 kilometres farther east slips under the North American plate. As that happens, there is a “pulling apart motion” of the plates, he said.
There have been 19 earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger within 250 kilometres of Tuesday’s quake in the past century, Earle said.
Initial calculations show that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday’s quake. The U.S. Geological Survey predicts “significant casualty and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread.”
Gustavo Serrano, BuzzFeed Mexico’s social media editor, posted this video on Twitter:
En el piso 38 en pleno Reforma. pic.twitter.com/zuCIke0kc9
(CBC has not verified the video above or the video below.)