Magnitude-7.2 earthquake strikes central, southern Mexico

April 18

A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake, which occurred about 9:30 a.m. (10:30 a.m. Eastern time), was centered on a long-dormant fault line northwest of the Pacific resort of Acapulco, where many Mexicans are vacationing for the Easter holiday.

It was felt across at least a half-dozen states and Mexico’s capital, where it collapsed several walls and left large cracks in some facades. Debris covered sidewalks around the city.

Around the region, there were reports of isolated and minor damage, such as fallen fences, trees and broken windows. Chilpancingo, capital of the southern state of Guerrero, where the quake was centered, reported a power outage, but service was restored after 15 minutes.

In Acapulco, 59-year-old Enedina Ramirez Perez was having breakfast, enjoying the holiday with about 20 family members, when her hotel started to shake.

“People were turning over chairs in their desperation to get out, grabbing children, trampling people,” the Mexico City resident said. “The hotel security was excellent and starting calming people down. They got everyone to leave quietly.”

The quake struck 170 miles southwest of Mexico City, where people fled high-rises and took to the streets, many still in their bathrobes and pajamas on their day off.

“I started to hear the walls creak and I said, ‘Let’s go,’ ” said Rodolfo Duarte, 32, who fled his third-floor apartment.

“This is really strong,” said Gabriel Alejandro Hernandez Chavez, 45, an apartment building guard in Mexico City. “And I’m accustomed to earthquakes.”

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera said there were localized power outages from fallen transformers, but officials were working to restore service.

The USGS initially calculated the quake’s magnitude at 7.5, but later downgraded it to 7.2. It said the quake was centered 22 miles northwest of the town of Tecpán de Galeana and was 15 miles deep.

In many such earthquakes in Mexico, it can take time to receive word from remote areas near the epicenter, where damage could be more extensive. But there were no early reports of serious damage or injuries near the epicenter in Tecpán de Galeana.

Friday’s quake occurred along a section of the Pacific coast known as the Guerrero Seismic Gap, a 125-mile stretch where tectonic plates meet and have been locked, meaning that huge amounts of energy are being stored with potentially devastating effects, USGS seismologist Gavin Hayes said.

The last large quake that occurred along the section was a magnitude-7.6 earthquake in 1911, Hayes said.

He said scientists will be watching the area more intensely because moderate quakes such as the one Friday can destabilize the surrounding sections of seismic plate and increase the chance of a more powerful earthquake.

The USGS said that the Guerrero Gap has the potential to produce a quake as strong as magnitude 8.4, potentially much more powerful than the magnitude-8.1 quake that killed 9,500 people and devastated large sections of Mexico City in 1985.

Mexico City is vulnerable to even distant earthquakes because much of the city sits atop the muddy sediments of drained lake beds, which quiver as quake waves hit.

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