More than 200 people are dead after a magnitude-7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico Tuesday afternoon, hitting on the 32nd anniversary of the biggest quake to ever strike the country’s capital.
The earthquake struck about 75 miles southeast of Mexico City but caused extensive damage there, leveling at least 44 buildings, including homes, schools and office buildings, according to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who did a flyover of the city Tuesday afternoon.
Among the dead are at least 22 people, including students and at least two adults, from a collapsed primary school in the south of the city. Pena Nieto visited the school late Tuesday. He said the 22 bodies have been recovered but that 30 children and eight adults are still missing.
Rescuers were clawing at the wreckage looking for survivors late Tuesday, pausing to listen for voices. Relatives told The Associated Press they had received WhatsApp messages from two girls inside.
“Children are often the most vulnerable in emergencies such as this and we are particularly concerned because schools across the region were in session and filled with students,” said Jorge Vidal, director of operations at Save the Children in Mexico.
Hanna Monsivais, programs coordinator at Save the Children in Mexico, said she has been out on the streets in Mexico City with hundreds of other people trying to help their neighbors. But entire street blocks have been cordoned off and numerous buildings are still too dangerous to enter because of the damage.
“Volunteers are bringing water, food, clothes, and face masks, so that they can help the official authorities move all the debris and rocks, because there are still people trapped under buildings,” Monsivais said. “Every once in a while authorities ask for silence so they can hear the people who are still trapped. It’s amazing what people are doing for others, but some people are clearly still in complete shock.”
Many areas were still without power today and communications remained limited, Monsivais said.
“This night is going to be tough,” she said. “For sure, tomorrow the death toll will rise.”
Mexico City’s airport descended into chaos as the ground rippled and chunks of plaster fell from the walls when the earthquake hit, Dallas resident George Smallwood told ABC News.
“I felt the ground shaking, and I heard everyone screaming and starting to run,” he said, adding that he initially thought he was in the middle of a terror attack.
Smallwood had stopped in Mexico City for a long layover after a vacation in Medellin, Colombia, and had spent the day exploring the capital. He was getting ready to go through security at Mexico City International Airport for his 3:35 p.m. flight back to Dallas when the earthquake struck.
Parts of the ceiling were “swinging back and forth,” he said, and the panicked crowd took off “running in every different direction.”
The tremors lasted for about six to seven minutes, he estimated. After the shaking subsided, first responders swooped in to help the injured and a fleet of military and police helicopters buzzed overhead, he said.
Smallwood’s flight was rescheduled for 8:30 a.m. today, so he needed to find somewhere to stay for the night, he said.
Tuesday’s earthquake — which hit at about 2:14 p.m. ET near the town of Raboso in Puebla state, according to the United States Geological Survey — comes 11 days after a magnitude-8.1 quake struck off Mexico’s southern Pacific coast, killing dozens of people.
Thousands of people on the capital’s main boulevard streamed out of buildings and into the street in panic after the quake struck.
“I was just paying at the supermarket and suddenly the floor went ‘boom boom,’” Mexico City resident Lara Rodriguez told ABC News Tuesday. “People were obviously panicking.”
Rodriguez added, “So I rushed out and I went to get my kid from school to make sure he was okay. Luckily everything was fine, but on the way there was a lot of debris. There were clouds of sort of dust flowing up as if a bomb had hit or something.”
Dramatic images and footage depicted the destruction in Mexico City.
A post shared by Don Jose Montero de T y Aragon (@virusventor) on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:31pm PDT
Video filmed inside an office building showed the overhead lights swinging violently as the ground shook.
Meanwhile, chaos broke out in the newsroom of Milenio, a Mexican news site.
Several cars were damaged by falling debris.
Mexico City, built on a former lake bed, is one of the worst possible places for an earthquake to strike because of its soil, which can amplify shaking by factors of 100 or more, California-based seismologist Lucy Jones told ABC Los Angeles station KABC-TV. By comparison, the worst condition seen in Los Angeles during an earthquake is shaking amplified by a factor of five, Jones said.
Earlier in the day, earthquake drills were held in Mexico City to mark the anniversary of the Michoacán earthquake of 1985, which caused widespread death and injuries as well as catastrophic damage in Mexico City.
At the Instituto Morelos secondary school, which partly collapsed, school director Adelina Anzures told The Associated Press that the school conducted an earthquake drill in the morning, just two hours before the quake struck.
“I told them that it was not a game, that we should be prepared,” Anzures said of the drill. When the quake came, she said the children and teachers rapidly filed out.
“It fell and everything inside was damaged,” she said, adding that nobody was hurt.
Narciso Suarez of Mexico City said he was attending a meeting on the ninth floor of a high-rise building when he first felt the quake’s tremble. He said authorities in the building ordered those inside to shelter in place “at least until the shaking passed.”
Suarez, who was also in the area Sept. 7 when the last earthquake struck, said Tuesday’s tremble was “a lot worse.”
With the pervious earthquake, “we immediately evacuated the building and we saw no damage,” he said. “But today … there are a lot of buildings that have collapsed in this neighborhood. It’s really sad.”
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon, “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.”
God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 19, 2017
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence echoed the commander in chief’s comments, tweeting, “Our hearts are with the people of Mexico City. We’re thinking of you and, as @POTUS said, we are with you.”
The U.S. State Department said in a statement, “We stand ready to provide assistance should our neighbors request our help. Our embassy in Mexico City has sent out public messages to U.S. citizens in Mexico, and the embassy stands ready to provide consular assistance to any U.S. citizens who may have been affected. We offer our condolences to any who were injured or lost loved ones.”
ABC News’ Fergal Gallagher, Benjamin Gittleson, Matt Gutman Joshua Hoyos, Bonnie Mclean, Kirit Radia and Robert Zepeda contributed to this report.
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