A powerful earthquake centered near the tourist center of Huatulco, in southern Mexico, killed at least two people, shook buildings in Mexico City, and sent thousands of people to flee to the streets.
The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said that one person died and another was injured in the collapse of a building in Huatulco, Oaxaca. Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat later said a second person died in an apparent house collapse in the small mountain town of San Juan Ozolotepec.
The state-owned oil company known as Pemex said the earthquake caused a fire at its refinery in the Pacific coast city of Salina Cruz, which was relatively close to the epicenter. He said a worker was injured and the flames were quickly extinguished.
López Obrador said there were more than 140 aftershocks, most of them small, and that much of the damage was minor.
Seismic alarms sounded mid-morning with enough warning for residents to leave buildings. Power was cut in some areas. Helicopters flew over downtown Mexico City and police patrols blew their sirens.
Groups of people were still wandering near streets and sidewalks in some neighborhoods of the capital about an hour after the earthquake. Many were not wearing masks, despite previous calls from city officials to do so to curb the spread of the.
The United States Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.4 earthquake occurred at 10:29 am local time along the southern Pacific coast of Mexico at a depth of 16 miles. The epicenter was 7 miles south-southwest of Santa María Zapotitlán in the state of Oaxaca.
It was felt in Guatemala and throughout southern and central Mexico. In Huatulco, a quiet beach destination known for surfing and small sheltered coves, the earthquake knocked goods off the shelves and some rubble from buildings.
Mari González, of the Princess Mayev hotel in Huatulco, said staff and guests were able to evacuate the building before the earthquake, but that 45 minutes after the initial earthquake they were still outside while the strong aftershocks continued.
“It was strong, very strong,” he said.
González said there were some broken glass and visible mirrors, but that there was no major damage. The staff was waiting for the aftershocks to dissipate before fully evaluating the property.
The USGS estimated that about 2 million people felt strong or moderate tremors and another 49 million felt weak or mild tremors.
The earthquake struck an earthquake-prone region where four underground tectonic plates meet. In the past 35 years, there have been at least seven earthquakes of magnitude 7 or more, killing about 10,000 people, most of them in a 1985 earthquake.
“This has the potential to be a deadly earthquake and cause significant damage,” said the seismologist at the US Geological Survey. USA Paul Earle. “This area is capable of experiencing larger earthquakes in the past.”
“There will be aftershocks,” Earle said. “It is not unexpected to see a magnitude 6 at this point and several smaller ones.”