MEXICO CITY — (UPDATE 2 – 12:06 p.m.) At least 149 people died when a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck central Mexico on Tuesday, toppling buildings in the heavily populated capital where rescuers scoured frantically under the rubble of ruins for survivors.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said 44 buildings were severely damaged or destroyed. Several major gas leaks and fires occurred.
Among the more severely damaged buildings was the Philippine embassy in Mexico City, the Department of Foreign Affairs said as it offered its “sympathy and prayers” for the loss of lives.
No Filipinos have so far been reported injured in the powerful quake, it added. There are 60 Filipinos in Mexico City.
Thousands of people ran into the streets in panic, and millions lost electricity when the quake struck around lunchtime, among them Ambassador Eduardo de Vega, who said he and embassy staff rushed out as debris fell down the walls and ceilings.
“We are all a bit shaken but otherwise all of us from the Embassy are all right,” the DFA quoted De Vega as saying in a text message to Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, who is in New York to attend the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The embassy occupies the first two floors of an eight-story office building in the Cuauhtemoc neighborhood near the city center.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told local television rescue teams were working painstakingly with picks and shovels. The United Nations expressed condolences and said it was ready to assist.
“We have some buildings where we have reports that there could be people inside. They are doing it with lots of caution,” the interior secretary said, adding that more rescue personnel would be needed.
Ambulances and fire engines confronted gridlock on Mexico City’s streets as millions of workers tried to go home.
The temblor occurred on the 32nd anniversary of a devastating quake that killed thousands in Mexico City in 1985. Many Mexicans had taken part in earthquake drills on Tuesday as is customary every Septembe 19.
Sirens blared as first responders rushed through the streets of Mexico City, and people scrambled amid the ruins of buildings, searching for survivors.
Among the collapsed buildings in the capital were apartment blocks, a school, a factory and a supermarket. The fashionable Roma district was hard hit, and a six-story apartment building was among several collapses reported.
Hundreds of volunteers and rescue workers dug through the rubble with picks, shovels and their bare hands.
“My wife is there. I haven’t been able to communicate with her. She is not answering, and now they are telling us we have to turn off our cellphones because there is a gas leak,” said Juan Jesus Garcia, 33, choking back tears.
On Twitter, relatives posted pleas for news of family members, including 8-year-old Alexis Vargas Macias who was at school when the quake hit.
Earthquakes of magnitude 7 or above are regarded as major and are capable of causing widespread heavy damage.
Initial reports showed the worst-hit area was the state of Morelos, just south of Mexico City. At least 54 people died there, according to a state official. Authorities reported other deaths in Mexico City, and in neighboring Puebla and the State of Mexico.
Power was cut to 3.8 million customers, national electricity company CFE said.
It was the second powerful earthquake to hit Mexico this month. A quake on Sept. 7 in southern Mexico killed at least 98 people.
The epicenter of Tuesday’s quake was located in the central state of Puebla, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.” Mexico City, one of the world’s most populous, and the surrounding area are home to about 20 million people.
Tuesday’s quake came on the 32nd anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed thousands in Mexico City in 1985. Many Mexicans had participated in earthquake drills around the nation on Tuesday as is customary every Sept. 19.
“People are really scared right now,” said dentist Claudia Meneses, who was in her clinic in Mexico City’s Lindavista neighborhood when the earthquake struck. “We’re going to go to a building that fell to see if we can help.”
At least one survivor was pulled from a collapsed building in the city’s busy Condesa neighborhood, and another person was rescued from a six-story apartment building nearby.
Ambulances and fire engines trying to reach the worst-hit areas confronted gridlocked streets as millions of workers tried to reach their homes.
In Cuernavaca, a city in Morelos that is a popular destination for weekend visitors from Mexico City, there were reports on local radio of people trapped beneath collapsed buildings.
Mexican TV and social media showed cars crushed by debris.
“We got out really fast, leaving everything as it was and just left,” said Rosaura Suarez, as she stood with a crowd on the street in Mexico City.
Mexican stocks and the peso currency dropped on news of the earthquake, and Mexico’s stock exchange suspended trading.