Powerful Earthquake Off Southern Mexico Kills At Least 15

6 hours ago
Originally published on September 8, 2017 7:28 am

Updated at 8:45 a.m. ET

A powerful earthquake struck off Mexico's southern coast late Thursday night, toppling houses in Chiapas state near the border with Guatemala and killing at least 15 people and triggering fears of a tsunami, according to early reports. At least 20 aftershocks have been felt.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 8.1-magnitude quake struck at 11:49 p.m. local time and its epicenter was 102 miles west of Tapachula in Chiapas — not far from Guatemala.

"The house moved like chewing gum and the light and internet went out momentarily," Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near the Chiapas state city of San Cristobal de las Casas, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying.

Reporter Emily Green in Mexico City, 650 miles from the epicenter, tells Morning Edition that she was on the street when she heard an earthquake warning klaxon and felt the ground shake. "It lasted a long time. It felt like more than a minute, but it was probably a minute."

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says it was an 8.2 magnitude quake. He also said it was bigger than the one in 1985, when thousands of people were killed in four Mexican states.

The governor of Chiapas, Manuel Velasco, said three people had been killed in San Cristobal, including two women in a house collapse. "There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy," he said, according to the AP. "Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged."

Two children were reported killed in neighboring Tabasco state, one when a wall collapsed. The other was a baby on a ventilator who died in a children's hospital when it lost power, the AP reports.

One death was reported in Guatemala.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning System said waves of 3.3 feet above tide level were measured off Salina Cruz, Mexico, and smaller waves elsewhere. Hazardous tsunami waves were also possible on the Pacific coasts of several Central American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras, within three hours.

Authorities in the state of Chiapas are assessing the damage.

The Associated Press reports:

"Civil Defense in Chiapas said on its Twitter account that its personnel were in the streets aiding people and warned residents to prepare for aftershocks.

"In neighboring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales spoke on national television to call for calm while emergency crews checked for damage.

" 'We have reports of some damage and the death of one person, even though we still don't have details,"' Morales said. He said the unconfirmed death occurred in San Marcos state near the border with Mexico."

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