LATIN AMERICA

Mexican quake rattles but Guerrero state escapes human toll

Tremors cause widespread panic in south of Mexico but no deaths reported

Workers try to remove a collapsed bridge from a bus in Guerrero state.
Workers try to remove a collapsed bridge from a bus in Guerrero state.R. SCHEMIDT (AFP)

A 7.9-magnitude earthquake shook the southern Mexican state of Guerrero Tuesday, collapsing homes and bridges and causing widespread panic as people ran out into the streets. No deaths were reported and authorities say that only about a dozen people were injured.

The quake hit at 12.03pm local time and was felt as far away as Mexico City. It was the strongest since the 8.1-magnitude quake that destroyed large sections of the capital in 1985 and killed thousands - the worst in modern Mexican history.

"There are some broken windows, a lot of fear, a lot of panic," Mexican President Felipe Calderón said.

Ángel Aguirre, the governor of Guerrero, said no important structures were damaged in his state, which felt the strongest jolts, but scores of bridges collapsed on automobiles and hundreds of homes were ruined. "Some saw the support beams of their homes come crashing through, others saw the tiles break loose," said the governor.

After the initial quake, at least a half of dozen tremors followed causing more panic.

In the capital, lawmakers in session abandoned Congress when they felt the jolts. At least 2,000 people were evacuated from the historic building and remained outside until structural-damage assessment could be made.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said in his Twitter account that there was no visible damage on any of the capital's buildings. "We made a quick check and there is no major damage, no collapsed buildings and no deaths," the mayor said later during a news conference.

Mexicans are better prepared to deal with such disasters than they were more than 25 years ago. The powerful 8.1-magnitude earthquake on September 19, 1985 claimed the lives of at least 10,000 people and caused considerable damage throughout Mexico City. Dozens were found still alive buried under rubble a week after the quake.

But on Tuesday the city went about its usual business with service uninterrupted on the busy subway system and cellphone service still up and running. Flights continued to depart and arrive at the Benito Juárez International Airport.

According to the US Geological Service, Tuesday's quake epicenter was located some 29 kilometers southeast of the town of Ometepec, near Acapulco.

In the neighboring state of Oaxaca, at least 70 homes were destroyed. Hundreds of people, fearing stronger aftershocks, abandoned their offices and homes. Civil defense authorities helped evacuate people from hospitals and clinics in Chilpancingo de los Bravo, the capital of Guerrero. Many slept outdoors because they feared returning to their homes.

Electricity and water was cut off in at least 14 surrounding states. By Wednesday, some 300,000 people were still without potable water.

Laura Gurza, the director of Mexico's civil defense, said that only 11 people were injured in Tuesday's quake.

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