Strongest earthquake to hit Mexico in decades kills at least 34

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At least 34 people were killed when the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in decades tore through buildings, forced mass evacuations and triggered alerts as far away as Southeast Asia.

The 8.1 magnitude quake off the southern coast late on Thursday was stronger than a devastating 1985 temblor that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands, reports Reuters.

This time, damage to the city was limited, as the quake was deeper and further from the capital, but still shocking.

“It almost knocked me over,” said Gildardo Arenas Rios, a 64-year-old security guard in Mexico City’s Juarez neighborhood, who was making his rounds when buildings began moving.

The southern town of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, near the epicenter, was hit particularly hard, with sections of the town hall, a hotel, a bar and other buildings reduced to rubble.

“The situation is Juchitan is critical; this is the most terrible moment in its history,” the town’s mayor, Gloria Sanchez said, after the long, rumbling quake that also shook Guatemala and El Salvador.

The government said 25 people were killed in Oaxaca, and state governor Alejandro Murat said 17 of those were in Juchitan.

A spokesman for emergency services said seven people died east of Oaxaca in the state of Chiapas, where thousands of people living on the coast were evacuated from homes as a precaution when the quake sparked tsunami warnings.

Waves rose as high as 2.3 ft (0.7 m) in Mexico, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said, though that threat passed.

State oil company Pemex said it was checking for damage at its installations. President Enrique Pena Nieto said operations at the Salina Cruz refinery in the same region as the epicenter were temporarily suspended as a precautionary measure.

WOKEN IN THE NIGHT

Two children died north of Chiapas in Tabasco state, the local governor said. At least 250 people in Oaxaca were also injured, according to agriculture minister Jose Calzada.

Classes were suspended in much of central and southern Mexico on Friday to allow authorities to review damage.

In one central neighborhood of Mexico City, dozens of people stood outside after the quake, some wrapped in blankets against the cool night air. Children were crying.

Liliana Villa, 35, who was in her apartment when the quake struck, fled to the street in her nightclothes.

“It felt horrible, and I thought, ‘this (building) is going to fall,’” she said.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the 8.1 magnitude quake had its epicenter in the Pacific, 54 miles (87 km) southwest of the town of Pijijiapan at a depth of 43 miles.

Allen Husker, a seismological expert at the geophysical institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the quake had rewritten the record books.

“It’s the worst quake (in Mexico) in more than 100 years,” Husker said.

Across the Pacific Ocean, the national disaster agency of the Philippines put the country’s eastern seaboard on alert for possible tsunamis, though in the end no evacuations were ordered.

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