The number of people killed by the 8.2-magnitude quake that hit the southern coast of Mexico late Thursday has risen to at least 61, with witnesses saying they cannot remember an earthquake this terrible. Three days of mourning have been declared.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said the quake was “the largest registered in our country in at least the past 100 years.” He said in a televised address Friday night that at least 45 people were killed in Oaxaca, 12 in Chiapas, and four in Tabasco.
But the actual death toll could be over 80, AFP reports, citing local state officials. Over 200 people were injured across Mexico, officials say.
A rescue operation is still under way, as emergency workers in the southern region, hit hardest by the quake, are hoping to pull more survivors from the ruins of Mexico’s most powerful earthquake in a century.
Desperate searches for survivors are still going on in the rubble of houses, churches, and schools that were torn apart.
One Mexico City resident told ABC she sat vigil by the body of a loved one draped in a red shroud.
“We are holding vigil for her here because we went to purchase her coffin but there are none left because of how many people were killed,” Alma Rosa said.
Oaxaca resident Rosa Esteva Luis said when she arrived at her mother’s house, “she was crying.”
“And my neighbor had the ceiling fall on top of his head, I don’t know if he is alive,” she said.
In Juchitan, local residents described the quake in apocalyptic terms.
“It was all horrific. Everything collapsed, everything,” Maria Magdalena Lopez recalled. “The truth [is] I have no words to explain what happened. Look at my home, everything is destroyed.”
In the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, two children were among the dead. One was crushed by a collapsing wall; another, an infant on a respirator, died after the quake triggered a power outage, AFP reports.
Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near the town of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, told AP that his house “moved like chewing gum.”
Around 428 homes were destroyed and 1,700 damaged in various cities and towns in Chiapas, the Interior Department said.
“Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed,” Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, told AP.
At least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins of the hardest-hit city – Juchitan, Oaxaca – with roofs, cables, insulation, and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.
People gathered around Juchitan’s wrecked town hall, where two policemen were trapped in the rubble. Rescuer workers managed to pull out one person and were still trying to save the other 18 hours after the quake, AFP reported.
“God, let him come out alive!” a woman cried, as four cranes and a dozen trucks removed what remained of the building’s ruined wing.
Vidal Vera, 29, was one of 300 policemen digging through the rubble in an effort to find survivors.
“I can’t remember an earthquake this terrible,” he told AFP.
“The whole city is a disaster zone right now. Lots of damage. Lots of deaths. I don’t know how you can make sense of it. It’s hard. My sister-in-law’s husband died. His house fell on top of him,” he added.
“The priority in Juchitan is to restore water and food supplies and provide medical attention to those affected,” Nieto tweeted on Saturday.
Mexico’s seismology service estimated the quake at 8.2 magnitude. The US Geological Survey put it at 8.1.
The powerful jolt was felt as far north as Mexico City, 800 kilometers from the epicenter, triggering waves that reached as far as New Zealand, over 11,000 kilometers away.
Four people were also injured in neighboring Guatemala, where President Jimmy Morales ordered urgent humanitarian aid.
Pope Francis, at an open-air mass on Friday during a visit to Colombia, said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and their families” in the disaster.