Thursday’s quake was the strongest in Mexico since an 8.1 temblor struck the western state of Jalisco in 1932.
At least 60 people died when the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in over eight decades tore through buildings and forced mass evacuations in the poor southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, triggering alerts as far away as Southeast Asia.
The 8.1 magnitude quake off the southern coast late Thursday was stronger than a devastating 1985 temblor that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands.
This time damage to the city was limited as the quake was deeper and farther away, but it still sent thousands of people scurrying from their homes onto the streets when the violent rumbling began that also shook Guatemala and El Salvador.
The Oaxacan town of Juchitan on Mexico’s narrowest point bore the brunt of the disaster, with sections of the town hall, a hotel, a church, a bar and other buildings reduced to rubble.
“The situation is Juchitan is critical; this is the most terrible moment in its history,” the local mayor, Gloria Sanchez, said a few hours before President Enrique Pena Nieto flew to the battered town to oversee rescue efforts.
Facades of shattered buildings, fallen tiles and broken glass from shop fronts and banks littered the pavements of Juchitan while heavily armed soldiers patrolled and stood guard at areas cordoned off due to the extent of the damage.
Startled residents stepped through the rubble of about 100 wrecked buildings, including houses, a flattened Volkswagen dealership and Juchitan’s shattered town hall. Scores paced the terrain or sat outside warily, mindful of the frequent aftershocks.
Alma Rosa, sitting in vigil with a relative by the body of a loved one draped in a red shroud, said: “We went to buy a coffin, but there aren’t any because there are so many bodies.”
All the deaths were in three neighboring states clustered near the epicenter that lay about 70 km (40 miles) off the coast.
In Oaxaca, 45 people died, many of them in Juchitan, while in Chiapas 12 and in Tabasco three people lost their lives, according to federal and state officials.
People ran into the streets in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest metropolises and home to more than 20 million, and alarms sounded after the quake struck just before midnight.
Rescue workers searched through the night for anyone trapped in collapsed buildings, but the toll appeared to be less severe than that seen in some far less powerful tremors.
Windows were shattered at Mexico City airport and power went out in several neighborhoods of the capital, affecting more than one million people.
Authorities reported dozens of aftershocks, and President Pena Nieto said the quake was felt by around 50 million of Mexico’s roughly 120 million population.