Mexico begins recovery process after earthquake kills at least 61

Juchitan hardest struck in 8.1-magnitude quake that was biggest to hit country in decades

People gather on a street in downtown Mexico City during an earthquake on September 7, 2017. Photograph: PEDRO PARDOPEDRO PARDO/AFP

One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico and a raging hurricane dealt a devastating one-two punch to the country, killing at least 61 people as workers scrambled to respond to the twin national emergencies.

The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states.

Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were otherwise rendered uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.

In central Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses on to pavements to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors.


“We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbours on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”

Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and winds.

Sustained wind

The US National Hurricane Centre reported Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 75 mph, making it a category one storm when it made landfall, and it rapidly weakened even further over land into a tropical storm.

The centre said Katia now is stalling over Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains and the maximum sustained winds are now down to near 40 mph. It was expected to continue to dissipate over the course of Saturday.

But the storm could still bring life-threatening floods and a storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico, though the extent of Katia’s impact was unclear in the dark of night.

Pena Nieto announced that the earthquake killed 45 people in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco, and he declared three days of national mourning.

The toll included 36 dead in Juchitan, on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where a hospital and about half the city hall also collapsed into rubble. Rescuers searched for survivors Friday with sniffer dogs and used heavy machinery at the main square to pull rubble away from city hall, where a missing police officer was believed to be inside.


The city’s civil defence co-ordinator, Jose Antonio Marin Lopez, said similar searches had been going on all over the area since the previous night.

Teams found bodies in the rubble, but the highlight was pulling four people, including two children, alive from the completely collapsed Hotel Del Rio where one woman died.

“The priority continues to be the people,” Mr Marin said.

Mr Pena Nieto said authorities were working to re-establish the supply of water and food and provide medical attention to those who need it. He vowed the government would help rebuild.

“The power of this earthquake was devastating, but we are certain that the power of unity, the power of solidarity and the power of shared responsibility will be greater,” Mr Pena Nieto said.

The earthquake also jolted the Mexican capital, which largely lies atop a former lake bed where the soil is known to amplify seismic waves. Memories are still fresh for many of a catastrophic quake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city in 1985. The latest earthquake swayed buildings and monuments in the capital more than 650 miles from the epicentre.

Mexico City escaped major damage, though part of a bridge on a road being built to the site of a planned new international airport collapsed, local media reported.