The quake that struck Mexico City on the morning of the Sept. 19, 1985, killed thousands of people.(John Downing / Getty Images)
A collapsed building in Mexico City is seen the day after the 1985 earthquake.(John T. Barr / Getty Images)
The ruins of Hotel Regis in Mexico City after the 1985 temblor.(Derrick Ceyrac / AFP/Getty Images)
Workers amid the post-quake rubble in 1985.(John Downing / Getty Images)
People watch rescue workers after the 1985 quake.(John Downing / Getty Images)
A body is removed from a collapsed building in Mexico City on Sept. 24, 1985.(Roland Neveu / Hulton Archive)
Another building collapse in Mexico City in 1985.(John Downing / Getty Images)
A Mexico City scene from Sept. 26, 1985, one week after the quake.(John Downing / Getty Images)
The 1985 quake displaced many Mexico City residents, who were forced to live in makeshift tents.(Roland Neveu / Getty Images)
A Mexico City street scene on Sept. 24, 1985.(John Downing / Getty Images)
Family members carry the coffin of a quake victim on Sept. 24, 1985, in Mexico City.(Roland Neveu / Hulton Archive)
Workers dig graves for earthquake victims in Mexico City shortly after the 1985 temblor.(Getty Images)
Residents collect water in Mexico City after the 1985 quake.(Getty Images)
The earthquake struck at the height of morning rush hour, toppling buildings, igniting fires and leaving residents panicked in the streets.
It happened 32 years ago, exactly. On Sept. 19, 1985, a 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the southwest coast of Mexico, jolting the capital city and small towns throughout the country. At least 4,200 people died — possibly many more — and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.
Chaos again erupted in Mexico on Tuesday, the anniversary of the 1985 temblor, when a 7.1 earthquake hit the country, killing at least several dozen.
The irony was not lost, nor the sense of remembered panic, as frightened residents in Mexico City raced out of their homes and stood in the streets, terrified to go back inside.
At the time, President Miguel de la Madrid went on the radio to appeal for calm.
“Above all, the first priority is to save human lives,” de la Madrid told listeners. “Unfortunately, there appear to be many dead. All of the hospitals are on a state of alert to take care of the injured. The army is on a state of alert.”
Howard L. Lester, an amateur radio operator in Schenectady, N.Y., reported that he had monitored a transmission between a Mexico City operator and another in Tucson, Ariz.
Speaking in English, the Mexico City operator said:
“This is no joke. … We have only one radio channel left. It’s a government channel. We’re trying to get it working so we can tell the world what is happening.”
In the hours after the earthquake, 10 aftershocks hit Mexico City as streets were blocked with debris and medical personnel trying to help those trapped.