The most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in over a century struck the country Thursday night, causing nationwide wreckage and killing at least 32 people. The series of earthquakes originated from Mexico’s southern coast but were felt in several parts of the country.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported the earthquake struck about 60 miles off the coast of Chiapas state with a magnitude of 8.1 – just 0.1 higher than the devastating magnitude eight earthquakes from 1985 that killed thousands of people in the country’s capital, Mexico City.

Image credit: ABC News
Image credit: ABC News

Mexican seismologists initially reported Thursday’s quake was a magnitude 8.4, but the National Seismology Institute corrected the information on Friday and said the earthquake was an 8.2 magnitude.

At least 32 killed in states near epicenter of earthquake

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said about 50 million people across Mexico felt the quake. An estimated 1.5 million people lost electricity after the quake toppled power line across the nation, but by Friday morning electricity had been restored to 800,000 people, according to Peña Nieto. Officials canceled classes across 11 states on Friday to check for the safety of the schools.

The most severe damage withstood by the quake appears to have occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Tabasco, all near the epicenter, where at least 32 people passed away, according to the Associated Press.

Oaxaca’s governor, Alejandro Murat, told Televisa that at least 23 people had died in the state, while local officials said several residents were buried under the rubble of buildings. Luis Manuel García Moreno, the secretary of civil defense for Chiapas, said the death toll in the state had risen to seven. Meanwhile, officials in Tabasco said two children died there – one when a wall collapsed and the other one after a respirator lost power in a hospital.

The most severe damage withstood by the quake appears to have occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Tabasco. Image credit: AP Photo / Luis Alberto Cruz / 680 News
The most severe damage withstood by the quake appears to have occurred in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and Tabasco. Image credit: AP Photo / Luis Alberto Cruz / 680 News

The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Guatemala, where one person died. Authorities also said the Guatemalan homes along the border with Mexico became leveled. The Mexican president eased the population and said they shouldn’t panic.

“We are assessing the damage, which will probably take hours, if not days,” said Peña Nieto, who addressed the country two hours after the event, according to The New York Times. “But the population is safe over all. There should not be a major sense of panic.”

Tsunami waves are observed in Mexico after 8.2-magnitude earthquake

After the earthquakes that shook the country, tsunami waves of 2.3 feet were observed early Friday in Huatulco, a resort city in Oaxaca state, and 3.3 feet waves at the port of Salina Cruz several hours after, according to the National Weather Service’s Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

The U.S. Geological Survey detected at least 20 aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or higher within the first five hours after the 8.2-magnitude main earthquake. Peña Nieto warned a major aftershock as intense as magnitude 7.2 could also occur.

The USGS reported the quake struck at 9:49 p.m. Pacific Time Thursday night and its epicenter was 60 miles off the coast of Chiapas, with a depth of 43.3 miles. The quake rattled the buildings across the Mexican capital, where people fled their homes while still wearing their pajamas, according to Los Angeles Times.

Buildings and houses sway violently for about a minute, including the capital’s iconic Angel of Independence Monument, while electrical transformers exploded across the city. Some buildings collapsed in the capital, but Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told Televisa there were no reports of deaths.

Forecasters say Hurricane Katia will hit Mexico on Saturday

Mexico City is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes because the city was built on a former lake bed. Moreover, earthquakes are particularly troublesome to the residents, who still remember the 1985 quake that devastated the capital and killed over 5,000 people.

Robert Sanders, a geophysicist at the USGS, said the quake struck twice as far away from Mexico City as the 1985 earthquake, which caused over 400 multi-story buildings to collapse.

The earthquake came as Mexican emergency agencies were preparing for another natural disaster on the other side of the country, a hurricane. The U.S. National Hurricane Center warned Hurricane Katia –which has been wreaking havoc across the Caribbean alongside hurricanes Irma and Jose—was likely to strike the Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz on Saturday as a Category 2 storm that could cause life-threatening floods.

Meanwhile, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales addressed his nation on national television to call for calm while emergency teams checked for damage across the country.

“We have reports of some damage and the death of one person, even though we still don’t have details,” said Morales, according to Los Angeles Times.

He noted the death occurred in San Marcos state, near the Mexican border. Experts said the quake took place in a very seismically active area near the point of collision between three tectonic plates, the Caribbean, the Cocos, and the North American.

Source: Los Angeles Times