A powerful earthquake rocked Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people and toppling buildings, while Hurricane Maria barrels towards Puerto Rico on Tuesday night after wreaking havoc on Dominica, leaving the small Caribbean island virtually incommunicado.
Updated: As at 6pm, the earthquake death toll has risen to 248.
Less than two weeks after a magnitude-8.1 quake hit Mexico and killed nearly 100 people, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico at about 2.15 pm Eastern Time, the US Geological Survey said. Its epicenter was in the state of Puebla, about 80 miles southeast of the capital, Mexico City.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said on late Tuesday that 22 bodies, two of them of adults, were recovered from the scene of a school that collapsed in the capital. It wasn’t immediately clear whether those deaths were included in the overall death toll of 149.
The quake was felt far and wide.
Dozens of buildings collapsed or were severely damaged in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby states.
Damaged hospitals evacuated patients, while thousands fled office buildings as they swayed.
In the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma, rescue workers cheered after finding a woman alive under rubble. They then quieted down to listen for calls from other survivors.
Electricity and cellphone service were interrupted in many areas, and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.
Earlier on Tuesday, buildings across Mexico City held earthquake drills to mark the anniversary of the massive Sept 19, 1985, earthquake that killed at least 9,500 people.
Valerie Perez, 23, a student from Venezuela, ran from her fourth-floor apartment in Mexico City just in time to see the building in front of it collapse.
“A drill at 11am and an earthquake at 1pm,” Perez said. “This is the most powerful thing I have ever seen in my life.”
As rains began to lash Puerto Rico, Gov Ricardo Rossello warned that Maria could hit “with a force and violence that we haven’t seen for several generations.”
“We’re going to lose a lot of infrastructure in Puerto Rico,” Rossello said, adding that a likely islandwide power outage and communication blackout could last for days. “We’re going to have to rebuild.”
Authorities warned that people in wooden or flimsy homes should find safe shelter before the storm’s expected arrival Wednesday.
“You have to evacuate. Otherwise, you’re going to die,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner. “I don’t know how to make this any clearer.”
Related report: Sept 19, Hurricane Maria ‘Devastates’ Dominica