More than 200 killed as powerful 7.1 earthquake strikes central Mexico
Mexico’s seismological agency said the epicenter was east of the capital in the state of Puebla. (Sept. 20, 2017)
A powerful 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, collapsing homes and bridges across hundreds of miles, killing at least 217 people and sending thousands more fleeing into the streets screaming in a country still reeling from a deadly temblor that struck less than two weeks ago.
Entire apartment blocks swayed violently in the center of Mexico City, including in the historic districts of El Centro and Roma, crumbling balconies and causing huge cracks to appear on building facades.
Panic spread through the city’s core; rescue vehicles raced toward damaged buildings, and neighbors took on heroic roles as rescuers.
Firefighters and police officers scrambled to pull survivors from a collapsed elementary and secondary school where children died.
“There are 22 bodies here — two are adults — 30 children are missing and eight other adults missing. And workers are continuing rescue efforts,” President Enrique Peña Nieto announced Tuesday night.
At least 86 people were reported killed and 44 buildings severely damaged in the capital alone. Twelve other people died in the surrounding state of Mexico, 71 across the state of Morelos, 43 in Puebla state, four in Guerrero state and one in Oaxaca, according to Mexican officials.
The temblor struck 32 years to the day after another powerful earthquake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of Mexico City — a tragedy that Peña Nieto had commemorated earlier Tuesday.
Around 11 a.m., Julian Dominguez heard alarms sounding in the neighborhood of Iztapalapa, part of a citywide drill to mark the anniversary of the magnitude 8.0 quake. Schools and other buildings evacuated, but he kept working at his computer.
About two hours later, Dominguez, 27, started to feel the building move, and alarms sounded again.
“It started really slowly,” he said, but within seconds it was clear that this was no drill.
Dominguez raced down a flight of stairs. Crowds of people already had gathered outside. Parents were crying, worried for their children still in school.
“It was strange that it fell on the same day … as another earthquake that caused so much damage,” Dominguez said.
The federal government declared a state of disaster in Mexico City and dispatched 3,428 troops to affected areas there and in nearby states.
“We are facing a new emergency in Mexico City, in the state of Puebla and Morelos, following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake,” Peña Nieto said, adding that he had asked all hospitals to help care for the injured.
On Amsterdam Street, a normally tranquil road that rings a major park in the upscale Mexico City neighborhood of Condesa, a large apartment building disintegrated into a pile of concrete and dust.
Hundreds of residents helped a team of soldiers, police officers and firefighters search the rubble for survivors. Many of the men were shirtless in the late summer heat, and everyone was covered with dust.
Juan Jose Martinez, 52, felt the earthquake at his home several miles away. There was no damage to his neighborhood, so he and three relatives grabbed shovels and construction helmets and set out on foot to Condesa.
“What else would we do?” he said. “This is our Mexico. Everybody needs help sometimes.”
Some rescuers commandeered shopping carts from a nearby supermarket and formed a human chain to haul away rubble. Several times, a warning went up about a possible aftershock or gas leak, sending hordes of panicked people running.
But there were few places that would be safe. Amsterdam, like many streets in Condesa, is narrow and lined with trees and power lines, all of which could turn deadly in an aftershock.
The neighborhood was filled with thousands of dazed survivors too afraid to return to their homes. They stood around holding their heads and checking social media feeds on their phones. Many ducked into their apartments to bring food and water for rescuers.
At Xochimilco, the famed series of canals plied by gaily decorated boats, the quake set off large waves that rocked the boats filled with tourists.
The search continues for victims buried under the rubble of a fallen office building along Calle Alvaro Obregon in La Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Susana Coronel Flores, whose nephew, Adrian Moreno, is missing in a collapsed building, sheds a tear as the search continues for victims buried under the rubble along Calle Alvaro Obregon in La Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Residents stand in the street after the earthquake alarm sounded in Mexico City on Saturday morning before the shaking from a magnitude 6.1 aftershock in Oaxaca state reached the capital, causing buildings to sway.(Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)
Rescue teams stop their work Saturday after the earthquake alert sounded in Mexico City, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. There were no immediate reports of major new damage or casualties in the capital.(Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate apartment buildings in the Tlatelolco neighborhood after an earthquake alert sounded in Mexico City on Saturday morning, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico.(AFP / Getty Images)
Leodegaria Comonfort Ramirez, 49, whose home was destroyed in the recent quake, has a fractured shoulder and now shares a home with her neighbors in Jojutla. Her daughter was killed when the second story of the building they lived in came down on her head.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Margarita Martinez, left, shown with her children, sits where her home used to stand in the Mexican town of Jojutla, Morelos.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Elena Jimenez Arizmendi, 81, sits outside her destroyed home in Jojutla with a few of her belongings packed into plastic bags.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Heróico Ayuntamiento, Jojutla’s local government office, suffered major structural damage in the recent earthquake.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteers remove rubble alongside the Mexican military, beginning the reconstruction process where a block of homes in Jojutla was destroyed by the recent quake.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Maria de Pilar Paez Castillo, 69, receives medical attention outside a tent that she sleeps in near her damaged home in Jojutla.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Clara Velazquez Camargo, 77, right, tells her son Arturo Perez she would prefer to stay in a tent at a shelter at the La Perseverancia sport complex in Jojutla. “I want to live; I am afraid to return to my son’s home,” she said. The shelter is housing 350 people.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Neighbors place a tarp over part of the street near Leodegaria Comonfort Ramirez’s home, left, which was destroyed in the recent quake in Jojutla, killing Ramirez’s daughter.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The reconstruction process begins as residents discard their personal items damaged by the recent quake in Jojutla.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A worker repairs power lines next to Heróico Ayuntamiento, Jojutla’s local government office.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A crane removes a concrete stairway from a collapsed building in the Colonia neighborhood in Mexico City.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
People pin notes and flowers to a sidewalk memorial at a park in front of one of a collapsed building in Mexico City.(Luis Perez / AFP/Getty Images)
Family members embrace as they wait for news of their relatives outside a quake-collapsed seven-story building in Mexico City’s Roma Norte neighborhood.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
Japanese rescuers take part in the search for survivors at a flattened building in Mexico City three days after a strong quake hit central Mexico.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Soldiers and volunteers remove a car crushed by debris from a flattened building in Mexico City.(Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteer Elidia Marcos, 23, holds a sign asking for water, medicine and tools to aid victims of the earthquake in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteer Fernando Gedeño, 20, carries wood to be used to support the structure of the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school on Mexico City’s south side.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Refugio Gonzalez, 85, left, is comforted by volunteer Lety Rebollar, 19, of Mexico state, in a shelter holding 460 people displaced by the earthquake at Centro Deportivo Benito Juarez sports complex in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rosalba Ramirez Vargas, center, and the prayer group “the Best Friends of Jesus” pray the rosary while anxiously waiting for news from rescue crews searching for children trapped in the rubble at Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A rescue worker listens for signs of a person trapped under the rubble of a building felled by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City’s Ciudad Jardin neighborhood.(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
The Mexican Army load ruble into dump trucks while rescue teams work at night continuing to look for people trapped underneath a collapsed six story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue teams working at night continue to look for people trapped underneath the ruble of a collapsed six story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The Mexican Army along side civilians load debris while search and rescue continues for people in a collapsed six story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Members of the Mexican Navy look on while a search and rescue team ooks for victims under the rubble at a collapsed building where five people were found dead in Colonia Roma in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescuers work at the top of a destroyed building in Mexico City trying to rescue a man two days after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake.(Pedro Mera / Getty Images)
A rescuer from Israel, center, takes part in the search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City two days after a strong quake hit central Mexico.(YURI CORTEZ / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue services and volunteers raise their hands to ask for absolute silence during their search for victims under the debris of the school that collapsed in Mexico City.(JOSE MENDEZ / EPA / Shutterstock)
Mexico City residents scan the names of people who have been rescued and others who are still missing after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
An army of rescuers, firefighters, police, soldiers and volunteers search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City.(Mario Vazquez / AFP/Getty Images)
People who lost their homes in the earthquake rest inside a gymnasium turned in an evacuation center in Mexico City.(Jorge Dan Lopez / EPA/Shutterstock)
Rescuers search for survivors amid the rubble of a building flattened by the earthquake.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers await news as rescue teams look for people trapped beneath the rubble of a six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue teams use a blow torch on a slab of cement while looking for people trapped in the the rubble of a collapsed residential building in Mexico City Wednesday night.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
People anxiously wait for news from rescue crews as the search continues for children trapped in the rubble of Enrique Rebsamen School in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Dairo Martinez, right, 15, looks for the name of his friend Reyna Davila, a student at Enrique Rebsamen School in Mexico City, on Sept. 20. The school collapsed in the 7.1 earthquake the day before.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A pair of heavily damaged churches are left partially standing in Jojutla, Morelos state, Mexico, following a 7.1 earthquake that killed more than 200 people.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
The sky is exposed from inside the Santiago Apostol Church, which collapsed during Tuesday’s 7.1 earthquake in the town of Atzala in Puebla state, Mexico.(Pablo Spencer / Associated Press)
The Santiago Apostol Church in Atzala, in Puebla state, suffered major damage during Tuesday’s 7.1 earthquake in Mexico.(Pablo Spencer / Associated Press)
Rescue workers search for people trapped inside a collapsed building in the Del Valle area of Mexico City.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
A survivor is pulled from the rubble from a flattened building in Mexico City.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial view shows a flattened building in Mexico City. The search for survivors was continuing a day after a powerful quake hit the central part of the country.(Mario Vazquez / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers use a dog to search for survivors who may be buried under the rubble of a building flattened by a 7.1 earthquake in Mexico City.(Diana Ulloa / AFP/Getty Images)
Search and rescue teams continue to remove rubble and look for people in a collapsed six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Search and rescue teams remove rubble at a collapsed six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue workers search for children trapped inside the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City.(Carlos Cisneros / Associated Press)
Rescuers work at the Enrique Rebsamen school after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City.(EPA/Shutterstock )
In this photo provided by Francisco Caballero Gout, shot through a window of the Torre Latina, dust rises over downtown Mexico City during a 7.1 earthquake Tuesday.(Francisco Caballero Gout / Associated Press)
Volunteers and rescue workers search for children trapped inside the Enrique Rebsamen school, collapsed by a powerful earthquake in Mexico City.(Miguel Tovar / Associated Press)
Alejandra Reynoso, left, and boyfriend Alejandro Gamez wait for news on Gamez’s sister Karen Nayeli, who is missing at a collapsed office building along Calle Alvaro Obregon in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
People look for family and friends on a list of people rescued from an office building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Search and rescue workers continue looking for people trapped in a collapsed six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A car crushed by debris from a damaged building after a quake rattled Mexico City.(ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and volunteers remove rubble and debris from a flattened building in search of survivors after a powerful quake in Mexico City.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
An injured man is pulled out of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
People try to rescue survivors from a collapsed building in Mexico City on Tuesday.(Sáshenka Gutiérrez / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
People search for survivors in a collapsed building in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City on Tuesday.(Enric Marti / Associated Press)
A construction worker searches a building that collapsed in Mexico City.(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
Rescuers and volunteers remove rubble from a collapsed building in search of survivors in Mexico City.(Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images)
A car is crushed by debris from a building damaged in the 7.1 magnitude temblor.(Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)
People in Mexico City remove debris after a building collapsed in a powerful earthquake on Tuesday.(Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)
A security guard walks over debris of a collapsed building in the capital.(Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
People in Mexico City search a building that collapsed after a powerful earthquake centered southeast in neighboring Puebla state on Tuesday.(Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
In Roma, an upscale neighborhood that experienced some of the worst destruction in the 1985 earthquake, several low-rise buildings collapsed Tuesday. Among them was a commercial structure that housed a furniture store on the first floor.
Itzel Hernandez Galvan, 21, was in her car, about to head home from her job at a marketing firm, when she heard people screaming and realized that part of the building was about to collapse onto her car. She opened the door and ran as half of the building broke off, crushing her car and taking out trees and power lines.
“I ran, and I survived,” she said, still covered in dust. Others weren’t so lucky. Several people were buried alive, she said.
Rescue workers managed to pull at least eight survivors from the rubble, but Galvan said she saw a child who had been killed.
As a large crowd gathered, Mexican soldiers labored to clear away slabs of concrete. At one point, the soldiers thought they heard someone calling out for help from beneath the rubble and appealed for silence. But after some time, they determined that it was nothing.
Most people were at work or at school when the earthquake hit. Across the capital, the survivors poured into the streets to walk home, searching for information about loved ones and posting the names of the missing on trees and lampposts. Public transportation had ceased to function in a sprawling city so large it can take three hours to get home.
“It’s very horrendous,” said Guillermo Lozano, the humanitarian and emergency affairs director for World Vision Mexico, a Christian humanitarian organization. “Everything was moving — the stairs were moving, things were falling down.”
Among the destroyed buildings was a supermarket where survivors could be heard crying out for help, he said. Staff members at a children’s hospital were tending to patients in the streets.
Building standards have improved since the 1985 quake, Lozano said, but there are many old buildings in the city, which were among the worst-hit.
When the quake struck, he was in a meeting coordinating relief efforts for southern Mexico, where at least 90 people died in another powerful temblor on Sept. 7.
“We will need a lot of help,” Lozano said.
Authorities in Morelos reported major damage to the cities of Jojutla, Cuernavaca and Axochiapan.
“This is the first time in the history of Morelos that we have experienced something like this — a 7.1 magnitude earthquake,” the state governor, Graco Ramirez, told reporters. “We’re going to work hard overnight to try and rescue as many victims as we can find.”
He said Morelos was receiving assistance from other nearby states. “We’re all united and working together,” Ramirez said. “There is no doubt that we will recover from this.”
The U.S. Geological Survey calculated the magnitude of Tuesday’s temblor at 7.1 and said the epicenter was about 80 miles southeast of Mexico City in the state of Puebla.
The city Puebla, about 60 miles southeast of Mexico City, also appeared to have suffered significant damage. Social media were filled with photographs of buildings that had collapsed into the streets, and there were reports that some of the city’s famed ornate churches, erected in the colonial era, had been damaged.
Susan Hough, a USGS seismologist, said the quake may have been related to the one that struck off the coast of Mexico’s Oaxaca state on Sept. 7, which the government calculated as a magnitude 8.2 and her agency as an 8.1.
“An 8.1 is big enough that having an aftershock this big and this distant — it isn’t too surprising,” Hough said. “It’s unusual, but it fits in with the picture that we’ve grown to understand.”
News of the latest disaster spread fear across the republic.
Mariela Alvarez, 30, was getting her nails done in San Vicente in the coastal state of Nayarit when she heard about the earthquake. She immediately thought of her 25-year-old sister, Gabriela Alvarez, who has lived in Mexico City for about five years.
She called her sister five times, growing more and more nervous every time she got her voicemail. “I imagined terrible things,” Mariela said. “I was really scared.”
She reached out to her father, who was at work. He told her that he had heard from Gabriela. She was fine.
“We could talk to her and so we feel calm, but there are people who still don’t know,” Mariela said.
As night fell, volunteers carried food, water, flashlights and other basics to people camping out in streets still littered with glass and debris.
As night fell on Mexico City, entire neighborhoods were plunged into darkness. Authorities begged residents in less affected areas to donate flashlights and lanterns so rescuers could keep working though the night.
Many were too frightened to return home and wandered the streets toting luggage and pets, looking for safer ground. Strangers offered strangers places to stay. They looked after one another.
In Condesa, an eight-story building threatened to collapse near an area where volunteers were collecting donations of food, water, batteries and flashlights. Despite fears of aftershocks — every few moments a panicked shout went up — the volunteers stayed on to help, working into the night.
Times staff writers Linthicum reported from Mexico City, Lin from San Francisco and Zavis and Vives from Los Angeles. Special correspondent Cecilia Sanchez and staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report from Mexico City and Nayarit, Mexico, respectively.
4:25 a.m. Sept. 20: This article was updated with a revised death toll.
11:20 p.m.: This article was updated with a revised death toll.
9:25 p.m.: This article was updated with a new death toll and accounts from eyewitnesses.
7:45 p.m: This article was updated with the death toll rising to at least 139, a state of disaster declared in Mexico City and other details.
5:50 p.m.: This article was updated with the latest breakdown of casualties according to Mexico’s National Center for the Prevention of Disasters, details of the devastation and quotes from survivors.
4:05 p.m.: This article was updated with the death toll rising to at least 105.
3 p.m.: This article was updated with four deaths reported in Mexico City, description of the rescue efforts and other details.
1:50 p.m.: This article was updated with 42 deaths reported in Morelos.
1:30 p.m.: This article was updated with two deaths reported and to include comments from Angel Mancera and Alfredo del Mazo.
12:50 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.
12:35 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional details and background.
12:05 p.m.: This article was updated with a revised magnitude estimate and additional details.
This article was originally published at 11:30 a.m. Sept. 19.
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.