A powerful earthquake rocked a broad belt of central Mexico on Tuesday afternoon, killing at least 12 people, injuring hundreds of others and damaging the graceful colonial heart of the city of Puebla, officials said.
The magnitude-6.7 temblor struck at 3:41 p.m. and lasted nearly two minutes, the National Seismological Service reported. It caused panic across a wide swath of the country, shaking office buildings in Mexico City, shattering school windows in southern Oaxaca state and rattling high-rise hotels in Acapulco.
The epicenter was in Huajuapan de Leon in Oaxaca, about 140 miles southeast of Mexico City, but the worst damage occurred in neighboring Puebla state.
There, at least 11 people were killed, including two in the capital city of Puebla, Gov. Melquiades Morales told a news conference late Tuesday. In addition, a man died in the state of Veracruz when he was buried by a landslide caused by the quake, local officials said.
Several of the dead were children crushed under toppled walls.
The earthquake cracked walls and ceilings in the Puebla city center, which is filled with historic churches and homes decorated with colorful tiles. Balconies crashed to the ground.
"All the windows of the building exploded," one weeping teacher in the city told the TV Azteca network. "All the teachers grabbed the children and protected them."
Among the worst-hit buildings was Puebla's 17th century City Hall, where several employees had to be dug out from rubble. At another landmark, the 17th century Church of San Agustin, the dome crashed to the floor, leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling and carpeting the floor with chunks of concrete and shards of glass.
"The first thing we have to lament is the loss of human life," President Ernesto Zedillo said after surveying the damage in the city late Tuesday.
He declared Puebla state a disaster area and pledged that federal authorities would immediately seek ways to restore the historic center of the state capital.
"We can't allow the loss of this extremely important patrimony," Zedillo said. Still, the president noted that the death toll and damage were relatively light given the punch of the powerful earthquake.
The Red Cross treated at least 200 people in the city of Puebla, mostly for minor injuries, Mayor Mario Marin said. Soldiers and rescue workers crunched over streets littered with rocks to evacuate victims or aid the wounded. Authorities opened shelters for hundreds of newly homeless.
In other parts of the country, hundreds of homes and schools suffered damage. Landslides blocked highways, and at least one bridge, near Tehuacan, collapsed, authorities said.
In Mexico City, alarms wailed and tens of thousands of residents rushed out into the streets as the quake rocked buildings, bringing back the terror of the Sept. 19, 1985, temblor in the capital. That disaster claimed thousands of lives. But damage was minor in the national capital this time.