CHIAPAS, Mexico — At least 29 people have died after the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in a century struck off the country’s southern coast.
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 (1,000 kilometers) southeast of the capital and 74 miles (120 kilometers) from the Pacific coast.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the quake was the strongest earthquake Mexico has experienced in 100 years.
It hit just before midnight on Thursday, when many people would have been sleeping.
Alejandro Murat, the governor of Oaxaca, told CNN that 23 people were killed in his state alone. Four others have died in Chiapas state and two in Tabasco.
It hit 12:49 a.m. ET Friday, when many people would have been sleeping.
Authorities in Mexico say they are evacuating residents in Puerto Madero in Chiapas as a precaution due to a tsunami alert put in place after a major earthquake struck the country.
Chiapas’ civil protection agency tweeted that the evacuation was underway and posted photos of residents getting off a truck and going into what appeared to be a shelter. No further details have been provided.
A tsunami warning was put in place after the earthquake hit Mexico’s southern coast. The U.S. Geological Survey says that the quake had a magnitude of 8.1, while Mexico’s president says it was 8.2.
Authorities in Mexico say that a hotel in Oaxaca has collapsed in the major earthquake that hit the country, but no one has been reported dead.
Civil Defense photos showed the crumbling facade of the Anel hotel in Matias Romero and split in half. President Enrique Pena Nieto said no one was reported dead at the hotel.
Earlier, Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat said that some people were able to escape from the hotel and authorities were working to determine if they were any casualties or missing people.
— Peña Nieto said three people died in the state of Chiapas and two in Tabasco. Gov. Manuel Velasco said two of them died in a house collapse.
— The states of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, and Oaxaca were closest to the quake.
— Some 23,000 people likely experienced violent shaking, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS Pager system, which predicts economic and human loss following 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 has been confirmed in Mexico, with one wave coming in at 3 feet (1 meter), according to a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s verified account. The Tsunami Warning Center advised the public that tsunami waves could hit within three hours off the coasts of Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras and even Ecuador.
— The country’s Army, Marines and Federal Police are being mobilized to respond, Peña Nieto said.
— 800,000 people are without electricity, Peña Nieto said. Some people are lacking water service, and it may take 36-48 hours to get it back up and running.
— A hotel in the Oaxaca collapsed and multiple homes in Chiapas collapsed, Peña Nieto said.
— The USGS has reported multiple aftershocks, including four with tremors measuring above 5.0 in magnitude.
— Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales activated security personnel to assess the damage.
Chiapas hit hard
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 told CNN over the phone from Chiapas.
The quake had a depth of 69.7 kilometers (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 both 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 may 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 of the USGS told CNN 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.
CNN attempted to contact two seaside hotels in Chiapas but the lines appeared to be down.
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 that he will cancel school on Friday.
Mexico City shakes
On his verified twitter account, Mexican President Peña Nieto tweeted, “Civil protection protocols are activated, including the National Emergency Committee.”
It appears even the capital, hundreds of miles away, was not spared from the quake’s tremors. Mexico CIty Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said parts of the city are without in an interview on Foro TV.
Videos on social media showed significant tremors in various parts of the country as well as major damage to buildings and infrastructure, including traffic lights shaking.
Paulaina Gomez-Wulschner was driving when it struck. She heard an earthquake alarm go off on the radio, parked her car and joined others stood in the middle of the street to avoid falling objects.
“This was a very, very strong earthquake, one of the strongest I’ve felt, and I was here in 1985 when that earthquake collapsed Mexico City,” she told CNN.”It was very scary,” she said.
Gomez-Wulschner said she could hear sirens, ambulances and helicopters in the aftermath, but did not see any immediate damage near her.
But a receptionist at the Intercontinental in Mexico City said he only felt light shaking.