8.1-magnitude earthquake off southern Mexico kills at least 32, triggers tsunami waves

MEXICO CITY — At least 32 people were killed after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck off the country’s southern coast late Thursday night.

Luis Felipe Puente, the country’s national coordinator for emergency management, told Foro TV that 10 peopled died in Oaxaca state, four in Chiapas state and two in Tabasco state.

The magnitude-8.1 quake, which was felt as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City, was registered off Mexico’s southern coast just as heavy rains from Hurricane Katia lashed the east.

The epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean, some 600 miles southeast of the capital and 74 miles from the Pacific coast.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest Mexico has experienced in 100 years.

It hit 11:49 p.m. local time (10:49 p.m. MDT), when many people would have been sleeping.

Four people might be trapped inside a collapsed hotel in Oaxaca, Oaxaca Civil Protection Director Amado Bohorquez said.

The United States Geological Survey Pager system, which predicts economic and human loss after earthquakes, issued a red alert.

“High casualties and extensive damage are probable and the disaster is likely widespread. Past red alerts have required a national or international response,” it said.

A tsunami was confirmed in Mexico, with one wave coming in at 3 feet, according to the National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

It said tsunami waves taller than 10 feet could hit coast of Mexico, while 3-foot waves could reach as far as Ecuador, New Zealand and Vanuatu.

Mexico’s Army, Marines and Federal Police were being mobilized to respond, Pena Nieto said.

In all, 1.85 million homes lost electricity, but 74 percent of them have had service returned, Pena Nieto said. Some people are lacking water service, and it might take 36 to 48 hours to get it back up and running.

The USGS, based in Golden, has reported multiple aftershocks, including at least five with tremors measuring above 5.0 in magnitude.

Gonazalo Segundo was awoken by the shaking.

“I was already in bed. I was in my place so we were expecting to have a tranquil night but suddenly … everything breaks apart, glasses, furniture and everything,” he said from Chiapas.

The quake had a depth of 43 miles, according to the USGS, which makes it particularly shallow, according to Jana Pursely, a geophysicist at the USGS. That means more intense shaking.

The states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, home to at about 9 million people, are located close to the earthquake’s epicenter. They are two of the most impoverished areas in Mexico, and were likely hit the hardest.

“We have experienced earthquakes before, but not like this. It was so intense,” Segundo said. “We are alive, that’s the important thing.”

Many of those in Chiapas might not have been so lucky. The earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning when most people would have been sleeping. Chiapas is Mexico’s poorest state.

Pursely said she expects damage along the coast, meaning a costly cleanup could be on the way. These types of shallow quakes have the potential to be very dangerous, she said.

Chiapas Gov. Velasco told Foro TV that there have been reports of damage, including hospitals that have lost power and buildings with collapsed roofs. He said he will cancel school on Friday.