At least 217 dead after powerful earthquake hits central Mexico

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake is deadliest to hit country in more than 30 years and has brought down buildings in the capital, Mexico City

Emergency crews and volunteers are digging through rubble with their bare hands in search of trapped survivors after a powerful earthquake stuck central Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, toppling dozens of buildings and killing at least 217 people

The magnitude 7.1 quake the deadliest to hit the nation since 1985 struck shortly after 1pm local time, causing violent, prolonged shaking, which flattened buildings and sent masonry tumbling onto streets, crushing cars and people in the capital, Mexico City, and surrounding areas.

As night fell, rescuers armed with cutting tools and sniffer dogs scrambled to reach survivors pinned inside the ruins of offices, schools and apartment blocks amid plumes of dust and wailing sirens. Power cuts left much of the capital in darkness. Many people remained outdoors, fearful of aftershocks.

It was the second major earthquake to hit Mexico in two weeks and came on the anniversary of the 1985 quake that devastated Mexico City, killing 5,000 people and destroying 10,000 homes.

Mexico earthquake

The earthquake also appeared to have triggered an eruption of Mexicos Popocatpetl volcano. In Atzitzihuacn on the slopes of the volcano, a church collapsed during mass, killing 15 people, Puebla governor Jos Antonio Gali said.

Authorities said at least 54 people died in the state of Morelos, with 30 perishing in Mexico City, 26 in Puebla state and nine in the state of Mexico, which borders the capital.

Public education undersecretary Javier Trevio said 21 children and four adults had died at the collapsed Enrique Rebsmen school, according to local media. The online news organisation Animal Poltico reported at least 30 children were still trapped in the school, according to Mexico City authorities.

The Mexican president, Enrique Pea Nieto, visited the site earlier in the evening and was besieged by desperate parents, telling him that their children were missing.

Local residents, police and firefighters were using their bare hands to dig through the ruins of the four-storey building, which had pre-school, primary and secondary classes. Appeals went out for torches, batteries and water to help the rescuers with their search.

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Drone footage reveals aftermath of Mexico earthquake video

Pedro Serrano, a 29-year-old doctor, was one of the volunteers who managed to crawl into the rubble of a classroom only to find its occupants dead.

We dug holes, then crawled in on our bellies, Serrano told the Associated Press.

We managed to get into a collapsed classroom. We saw some chairs and wooden tables. The next thing we saw was a leg, and then we started to move rubble and we found a girl and two adults a woman and a man.

Asked if there was hope of finding anyone alive, Serrano said workers were still trying despite the danger.

We can hear small noises, but we dont know if theyre coming from above or below, from the walls above [crumbling], or someone below calling for help.

Anxious parents outside the gates said they had heard reports that two families had received WhatsApp messages from girls trapped inside, but that could not be confirmed.

The rescue effort was punctuated by cries of Quiet! to allow searchers to listen for any faint calls for help.

Guillermo Salazar, a construction foreman whose crew was working on a half-finished apartment block, said the building swayed like a hammock when the quake struck.

Everyone escaped unscathed thanks in part to an earthquake drill held two hours earlier, added Salazar. It was helpful. Everyone knew what to do.

Elsewhere, however, there was chaos. Authorities took so long to respond to a collapsed seven-storey building in La Condesa, a wealthy part of Mexico City, that hundreds of people frantically scrambled through the rubble with their hands using shovels and shopping trolleys to remove debris.

The overall death toll was expected to continue rising as emergency crews and improvised citizen brigades combed through rubble.

People remove debris from a collapsed building in Mexico City. Photograph: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

I thought that I had punctured a tyre. Then I saw all the light fixtures and signs swaying, said Humberto Muoz, who was driving from Puebla into Mexico City when the quake struck.

Peiby Ballau, a hairdresser, said it felt worse even than the 8.1 magnitude quake which hit further south on 7 September, killing at least 98 people and leaving 2.5 million in need of help. The building really moved back and forth. Of all the earthquakes Ive lived through, this was the strongest. You never get used to this. It was such a fright.

Video posted online showed one building in the Roma neighbourhood collapsing in a cloud of dust as onlookers screamed and ran for safety.


Aqu el momento donde un edificio, al parecer en la Colonia Roma colapsa. pic.twitter.com/rAYKX0lJjm

September 19, 2017

Another video showed slabs of concrete peeling from the facade of the labour ministry and plunging onto the street below amid clouds of dust.

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Moment huge slabs fall from building after Mexico earthquake – video

Gala Dluzhynska was on the second floor of a building on Alvaro Obregn street in the capital when the building began to totter. She said she fell over in the stairwell and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up. There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks, she told the Associated Press.

Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, said she was in a taxi when the quake struck and witnessed a building collapse a few yards away. There was the sound of thunder … then dust and all this. She joined the throngs of citizens who spontaneously joined rescue efforts, bolstering emergency crews. The people are organising quickly, she said.

Along Avenida de los Insurgentes one of the citys main thoroughfares thousands of people streamed out of buildings in panic as alarms blared.

Some 27 buildings collapsed in Mexico City, according to Pea Nieto. The president cut short a visit to the southern state of Oaxaca, which had been badly hit in the earlier quake.

The US president, Donald Trump, who had been criticised for a perceived tardy response to the earlier disaster, responded on Tuesday within minutes, tweeting: God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.

A car crushed by debris in Mexico City. Photograph: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

Much of Mexico City is built on former lake bed and the soil is known to amplify the effects of earthquakes even hundreds of miles away.

Improved safety laws and better disaster preparation means that earthquakes since 1985 have caused less damage in the capital. But Tuesdays quake struck without warning, despite an alert mechanism which normally sounds an alert beforehand.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/19/mexico-city-earthquake-anniversary-1985

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