MEXICO CITY — The death toll from the powerful earthquake that struck central Mexico Tuesday has risen to 149.
Fatalities were reported in capital Mexico City, nearby Morelos and Puebla states, the State of Mexico and the south-central state of Guerrero, according to the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, Luis Felipe Puente.
Puente said there were 55 confirmed deaths in Morelos, 49 in Mexico City, 32 in Puebla, 10 in the State of Mexico, and three in Guerrero.
The toll is expected to climb as many people remain trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter of the 7.1-magnitude quake was located 5 km. from Raboso, Puebla.
Its proximity to the capital and its shallowness, just 51 km. below ground, made the quake as intense as the destructive 8.2-magnitude temblor that hit southern Mexico on Sept. 7, reportedly the strongest to devastate the country in a century.
Nearly 30 buildings collapsed in the capital. Television footage showed the normally placid canals of the city’s Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, a popular tourist attraction, churning with waves, and boats tossed about as if on the high seas.
At 11 a.m. (1600 GMT), a nationwide earthquake drill marking the anniversary of the temblor that killed thousands on Sept. 19, 1985 had sent office workers and residents spilling into the streets.
Barely two hours later, people were scrambling out of buildings once again as seismic waves violently swayed light fixtures, knocked down plaster and caused water in fish tanks and coffee makers to spill out.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was en route to the southern state of Oaxaca to supervise recovery efforts there in the wake of the Sept. 7 quake, but his plane turned around and returned to the capital when he learned buildings had collapsed.
“I will fly over CDMX (Mexico City) and hold a meeting” to coordinate emergency efforts, the president posted on Twitter.
However, the plane was unable to land at Mexico City’s airport, where operations were temporarily suspended as officials inspected airstrips and buildings for damage. Since then, the airport has resumed operations.
Mexico City’s subway system suffered a 10-minute power outage that interrupted service for some 40 minutes following the quake. Commuters in stations were told to stand close to the walls and stay put until station officials were able to review the facilities.
Officials later announced the subway was offering free service, possibly to keep cars off the streets to make way for emergency vehicles.
The quake also damaged some roads.
A segment of the highway linking Mexico City to the nearest beach, the Pacific coast resort of Acapulco, collapsed between the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos, and Chilpancingo, Guerrero, Mexico’s Federal Police reported.
Rocks and debris knocked onto the Santa Barbara-Izucar de Matamoros Highway, narrowing it into a single lane.
Education Minister Aurelio Nuno Mayer announced the suspension of classes at all levels until further notice in all of the affected regions. Xinhua-northboundasia.com