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Death toll rises to at least 226 from Mexico earthquake

People remove debris of a collapsed building looking for possible victims after a quake rattled Mexico City on September 19, 2017. (Photo credit: OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s civil defense agency says the death toll has risen to 226 from Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake that knocked down dozens of buildings in Mexico City and nearby states.

The official Twitter feed of agency head Luis Felipe Puente said early Wednesday that 117 people were confirmed dead in Mexico City, and 55 died in Morelos state, which is just south of the capital. It said 39 are dead in Puebla state, where the quake was centered.

Twelve people died in Mexico State, which surrounds the capital, and three in Guerrero state. The count does not include one death reported by officials in Oaxaca state.

 

Hours after the quake, rescue workers were still clawing through the wreckage of a primary school that partly collapsed in the city’s south looking for any children who might be trapped. Some relatives said they had received Whatsapp message from two girls inside.

The quake is the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 quake on the same date killed thousands. It came less than two weeks after another powerful quake caused 90 deaths in the country’s south.

 

The federal government declared a state of disaster in Mexico City, freeing up emergency funds. President Enrique Pena Nieto said he had ordered all hospitals to open their doors to the injured.

Mancera, the Mexico City mayor, said 50 to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens and emergency workers in the capital. Authorities said at least 70 people in the capital had been hospitalized for injuries.

The federal interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, said authorities had reports of people possibly still being trapped in collapsed buildings. He said search efforts were slow because of the fragility of rubble.

“It has to be done very carefully,” he said. And “time is against us.”

 

At one site, reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble. Rescuers immediately called for silence so that they could listen for others who might be trapped.

Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, 26, was one many who spontaneously participated in rescue efforts.

She wore a paper face mask and her hands were still dusty from having joined a rescue brigade to clear rubble from a building that fell in a cloud of dust before her eyes, about 15 minutes after the quake.

Morales said she was in a taxi when the quake struck, and she out and sat on a sidewalk to try to recover from the scare. Then, just a few yards away, the three-story building collapsed.

A dust-covered Carlos Mendoza, 30, said that he and other volunteers had been able to pull two people alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building three hours of effort.

“We saw this and came to help,” he said. “It’s ugly, very ugly.”

Alma Gonzalez was in her fourth floor apartment in the Roma neighborhood when the quake collapsed the ground floor of her building, leaving her no way out — until neighbors set up a ladder on their roof and helped her slide out a side window.

Gala Dluzhynska was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on the trendy Alvaro Obregon street when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.

She said she fell in the stairs and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up.

“There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks,” she said.

People react after a real quake rattled Mexico City on September 19, 2017 moments after an earthquake drill was held in the capital.
A 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City on Tuesday, destroying buildings and causing an unknown number of casualties on the anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake. The quake sowed panic in the sprawling city of 20 million people, many of whom have memories of the quake 32 years ago that killed some 10,000 people in Mexico City.
/ AFP PHOTO / Omar TORRES (Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

They reached the bottom only to find it barred. A security guard finally came and unlocked it.

The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent people throughout the city fleeing from homes and offices, and many people remained in the streets for hours, fearful of returning to the structures.

Alarms blared and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument on the iconic Reforma Avenue.

Electricity and cellphone service was interrupted in many areas and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 hit at 1:14 p.m. (2:15 p.m. EDT) and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla Gov. Tony Gali tweeted there were damaged buildings in the city of Cholula, including collapsed church steeples.

Earlier in the day workplaces across the city held readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake, which killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of Mexico City.

In that tragedy, too, ordinary citizens played a crucial role in rescue efforts that overwhelmed officials.

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.

Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city’s normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.

Mexico City’s international airport suspended operations and was checking facilities for any damage.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.

The new quake appeared to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico’s southern coast and also was felt strongly in the capital.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted that the epicenters of the two quakes were 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart and most aftershocks are within (60 miles) 100 kilometers.

There have been 19 earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger within 250 kilometers of Tuesday’s quake in the past century, Earle said.

Earth usually has about 15 to 20 earthquakes this size or larger each year, Earle said.

Initial calculations show that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday’s quake. The US Geological Survey predicts “significant casualty and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread.”