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Deadly Earthquake Rattles Southern Mexico

By Fabrice Pierre-Toussaint

Staff Writer for Telegraph Local | See my LinkedIn

At least 5 people died and another injured in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca after a strong earthquake struck south-central Mexico in the morning of June 23rd. 

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Officials with Mexico’s civil protection agency warned that they expect sea levels to rise up to 3.7 feet (113 centimeters) above normal levels following the quake, and they recommended that residents move away from the coastline.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said the earthquake measured 7.4 on the Richter scale, and it hit at 10:29 a.m. local time (11:29 a.m. EDT). It was centered 7.5 miles (11 kilometers) southwest of Santa María Zapotitlán in Oaxaca state. This is along the Pacific coast, around 315 miles south of the country’s capital, Mexico City.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a video posted on social media that there are no immediate reports of the extent of damage or injuries.

Earlier estimates put the magnitude of the earthquake at 7.7, but the USGS revised the magnitude down to 7.4. Additional revisions are possible.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said that hazardous tsunami waves may form within approximately 600 miles of the epicenter, including areas along the coasts of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Seaports and container ship operators in these areas should watch for alerts.

Oaxaca Governor Alejandro Murat said a second person was killed in a house collapse in the mountain village of San Juan Ozolotepec and a third died in circumstances  not explained. 

Federal civil defense authorities reported two more deaths: a worker at the state-run oil company, Pemex, fell to his death from a refinery structure, and a man died in the Oaxaca village of San Agustin Amatengo when a wall fell on him.

Pemex also said the quake caused a fire at its refinery in the Pacific coast city of Salina Cruz, relatively near the epicenter. It said one worker was injured and the flames were quickly extinguished. Churches, bridges and highways also suffered damage during the quake.

López Obrador said there had been more than 140 aftershocks, most of them small.

Seismic alarms sounded midmorning with enough warning for residents to exit buildings. Power was knocked out to some areas.

Sources from News 9 state that 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 as a way to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

Inside a Mexico City military barracks converted to COVID-19 hospital, medical staff suited in protective equipment tried to calm anxious patients. Not able to evacuate isolation areas, patients gathered under a large beam in the women’s ward while a nurse tried to calm one having a panic attack.

Teresa Juárez could only wish for it to pass quickly from her hospital bed where she lay connected to oxygen. Diabetic and with high blood pressure, Juárez said she thought about her five children. “It’s horrible, you’re here and you don’t know what to do,” she said.

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 8.0 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.”

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This quake happened when the Cocos plate, which is to the southwest of the area, slipped under the North American plate, Earle said.

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