UPDATE 4 – Powerful earthquake strikes south of Mexico City, killing at least 158


A powerful earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.1 has struck central Mexico, causing numerous buildings to collapse and killing at least 158 people, officials and witnesses say. Dozens of people remain trapped under the rubble.

The earthquake, which struck at 1:14 p.m. local time on Tuesday, was centered near the city of Izúcar de Matamoros in the state of Puebla, or about 112 kilometers (70 miles) southeast of the capital. It struck at a depth of 51 kilometers (31 miles), making it a relatively shallow earthquake.

Very strong shaking was felt in areas near the epicenter and strong shaking was felt as far away as Mexico City, where scores of people fled from their buildings. At least 38 buildings were reported to have collapsed in the capital city, trapping an unknown number of people.

The Enrique Rebsamen elementary school in Mexico City, which had about 100 students between the ages of 6 and 12, was among the buildings which have collapsed. The bodies of 20 children and 2 adults were recovered by late Tuesday evening, President Enrique Peña Nieto said.

The president added that 30 children and 8 adults were still missing at the school. More than 700 people, including 500 soldiers and 200 members of the civil protection agency, were working at the site to search for survivors.

Elsewhere in Mexico City, about 20 people were believed to be unaccounted-for after a clothing factory collapsed in the Colonia Obrera neighborhood. Dozens more were trapped under the rubble of a building in the city’s Álvaro Obregón area, but at least 24 people were rescued alive, local officials said.

The full extent of the damage and casualties was not immediately clear but, as of 12:20 a.m., at least 158 people were confirmed to have been killed. At least 55 people died in the state of Morelos, 49 died in Mexico City, 39 died in Puebla state, 12 died in the State of Mexico which surrounds the capital, and 3 died in Guerrero.

Computer models from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimated that as many as 79.6 million people could have felt the earthquake, including 2.1 million people who could have experienced “very strong” shaking and 19.1 million people who may have experienced “strong” shaking.

“Significant casualties and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread,” the USGS said. It said the most affected cities include Jiutepec, Izucar de Matamoros, and Atencingo. The final death toll will likely be in the hundreds or, in the worst case scenario, in the thousands, the agency said.

More than 3.8 million customers were without power after the earthquake, according to the Federal Electricity Commission. The agency’s director, Jaime Hernández, called on people who were not affected by the outages to reduce their energy consumption to the bare minimum.

A state of emergency has been declared in Mexico City, Governor Miguel Ángel Mancera said. The city’s government said that, in addition to 49 dead, at least 217 people have been injured in Mexico City alone. This includes 67 people who were taken to area hospitals and 36 people who were being treated by the Red Cross.

Operations at Mexico City International Airport were suspended while authorities carried out a review of the airport’s infrastructure. Some damage was reported at and near the airport but operations resumed at about 4 p.m. local time. At least 180 flights were affected by the temporary closure.

Tuesday’s earthquake came just an hour after a nationwide earthquake preparedness drill, which took place on the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake that struck the coast of Michoacan, causing widespread damage in Mexico City and killing up to 10,000 people.

The earthquake came also less than two weeks after a major 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of southern Mexico, killing nearly 100 people. With a confirmed death toll of 119, Tuesday’s earthquake is the deadliest to hit Mexico since the 1985 disaster.

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