Major 8.2-magnitude earthquake strikes off southern Mexico

PUBLISHED Fri, September 08, 2017 - 1:03am EDT

A major earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 8.2 has struck off the Pacific coast of southern Mexico, with shaking felt across parts of Central America, seismologists and residents say. A tsunami alert has been issued for several countries. (more)

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The earthquake, which struck at 10:49 p.m. local time on Thursday, was centered about 72 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of El Palmarcito, or 87 kilometers (54 miles) southwest of Pijijiapan. It struck at a depth of 70 kilometers (42 miles), making it a relatively shallow earthquake.

Mexico's National Seismological Service put the preliminary magnitude of the earthquake at 8.2, down from an earlier estimate of 8.4. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also put the magnitude at 8.2 and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put the magnitude at 8.1.

A number of buildings were destroyed in the region near the epicenter but the extent of the damage was not immediately known. Local authorities confirmed that at least 5 people had been killed: 3 in the state of Chiapas and 2 in the state of Tabasco, where two children were confirmed to have died.

Shaking from the earthquake was felt across the region, as far away as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Shaking was also felt in Mexico City, where people fled from their buildings and there were reports of relatively minor damage. Luis Felipe Puente, the national coordinator of the Civil Protection agency, said parts of the capital were without power.

Soon after the earthquake, a tsunami warning was issued for the Pacific coast of Mexico, which could experience tsunami waves reaching more than 3 meters (9.8 feet) above the tide level, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Sea level gauges recorded tsunamis reached 1 meter (3.3 feet) above the tide level near the port city of Salina Cruz and tsunamis up to 0.7 meter (2.3 feet) near the resort of Huatulco. It was not immediately known whether the tsunamis had caused any damage at the two locations.

A tsunami alert was also issued for American Samoa, Antarctica, the Cook Islands, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guatemala, Kiribati, Samoa, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Wallis and Futuna. Those places could experience waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meter (1 to 3.3 feet) above the tide level.

All other countries and areas across the Pacific Ocean could experience tsunami waves of less than 0.3 meter (1 feet) above the tide level.

Computer models from the USGS estimated that as many as 90.2 million people may have felt Thursday's earthquake, including some 600,000 people who could have experienced "very strong" to "severe" shaking.

The analysis noted that the population in the region resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake-resistant construction. "Extensive damage is probable and the disaster is likely widespread," the USGS estimated, adding that significant casualties were possible.

At least 61 aftershocks were recorded in the first two hours after the earthquake, according to the National Seismological Service. It said the strongest aftershock had a magnitude of 6.1 while several others were in the upper-5 range. Additional aftershocks are likely.

A magnitude of 8.2 makes it the most powerful earthquake to strike Mexico in more than a century, surpassing the earthquake in Jalisco in 1932 which left hundreds dead. It also surpassed the magnitude of the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico in 1985, killing thousands of people.

Mexico sits on the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire', an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin which is prone to frequent and large earthquakes.

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