A powerful earthquake centered near the southern Mexico resort of Huatulco killed at least two people, swayed buildings in Mexico City and sent thousands fleeing into the streets.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said one person was killed and another injured in a building collapse in Huatulco, Oaxaca. Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat later said a second person was killed in an apparent house collapse in the tiny mountain village of San Juan Ozolotepec.
The state-run oil company known as Pemex said the quake caused a fire at its refinery in the Pacific coast city of Salina Cruz, which was relatively close to the epicenter. It said one worker was injured and the flames were quickly extinguished.
López Obrador said there had been more than 140 aftershocks, most of them small, and that much of the damage was minor.
Seismic alarms sounded midmorning with enough warning for residents to exit buildings. Power was knocked out in some areas. Helicopters flew over downtown Mexico City and police patrols sounded their sirens.
Groups of people still milled around in close proximity on streets and sidewalks in some neighborhoods of the capital about an hour after the quake. Many were not wearing masks, despite past appeals from municipal officials for them to do so to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The U.S. Geologic Survey said the magnitude 7.4 quake hit at 10:29 a.m. local time along Mexico’s southern Pacific coast at a depth of 16 miles. The epicenter was 7 miles south-southwest of Santa Maria Zapotitlan in Oaxaca state.
It was felt in Guatemala and throughout south and central Mexico. In Huatulco, a laid-back beach destination known for surfing and small protected coves, the earthquake knocked goods off shelves and some rubble from buildings.
Mari González of the Princess Mayev hotel in Huatulco said staff and guests were able to evacuate the building before the quake, but that 45 minutes after the initial quake they were still outside as strong aftershocks continued.
“It was strong, very strong,” she said.
González said there was some visible broken glass and mirrors, but no major damage. The staff was waiting for the aftershocks to dissipate before fully evaluating the property.
The USGS estimated that some 2 million people felt strong or moderate shaking and another 49 million felt weak or light shaking.
The earthquake hit a quake-prone region where four underground tectonic plates come together. In the past 35 years, there have been at least seven magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes, killing around 10,000 people — most of them in a 1985 quake.
“This has the potential to be a deadly earthquake and cause significant damage,” U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle said. “This area is capable of and has had larger earthquakes in the past.”
“There will be aftershocks,” Earle said. “It is not unexpected to see a magnitude 6 at this point and a number of smaller ones.”