This untamed resort on the Pacific Ocean is where Mexico's days of terror began. It is almost a ghost town now and it feels, as it should, like the end of the earth.

The streets are overrun by pigs rooting in garbage, stray dogs and horses. There are more pink lizards than people. The beach is narrow and the waves frothy and violent. To get here one must drive 10 hours on a highway that twists through the volcanic mountains along a pass known as the Devil's Spine.

It was near here, 20 miles below the surface of the earth that two enormous plates slipped and ruptured, causing the earthquake that radiated with awesome force and speed toward its deadly rumble in Mexico City.

The clocks at Playa Azul's two hotels show that it is 21 seconds before 7:16. That is when the earthquake stopped them. It is an interesting time because it is about three minutes before the recorded arrival of the earthquake at Mexico City and the provincial city, Ciudad Guzman.

It could indicate that the earthquake moved inland, under the mountains, past such towns as Nueva Italia, Uruapan, Ciudad Altamirano and Morelia, at a speed of more than 100 miles per minute.

Alberado Reyes, in that case, was perhaps the earthquake's first victim. Reyes, a middle-aged vacationer, was in bed with his wife in their room at the Playa Azul Hotel when the earthquake started to shake the building.

The third story fell on the second, and the second on the first as the columns cracked and collapsed. Reyes, said the wife, noticed that a ceiling fan was about to crash on her, so he threw his body in the way.

The whole ceiling came down and he absorbed a fatal blow. His wife was pulled out toward the courtyard pool and placed under a tulip tree. She was bruised and hysterical, but survived.

By then the earthquake had hit Mexico City, 300 miles to the southeast, and the Reyes tragedy would be played out in thousands of different ways by thousands of families. There were 46 guests staying at the Playa Azul Hotel, many of them Americans from Texas and California.

Their names are still registered at the front desk, but they have long since departed. They fled as soon as they could after the frightful events that morning.

"They ran out yelling and screaming like crazy," said Maria Julia Guerrero, the desk clerk. "It was ugly. It felt like everything was going to end."

But, in fact, the human toll was not nearly as bad as it might have been here near the earthquake's epicenter. Reyes was the only person killed in Playa Azul.

Ten miles to the south, in the industrial port city of Lazaro Cardenas, four persons were killed and 26 injured. The city hall was closed, with an enormous crack running down its front wall. Soldiers stood in the courtyard, keeping curious citizens away.

One of the two major hospitals was also partially destroyed. But earlier reports that scores of people had died in this coastal section of the state of Michoacan were exaggerated. That can be explained in part by the fact that few officials or reporters from the outside world have been here in the past few days. The telephone service has been knocked out, and only some local calls are possible.

Air transportation has been even more erratic. And the main road from Playa Azul to the center of the country, Highway 37, has become a difficult slalom run along which one must dodge broken-down buses, mudslides, fallen rocks and an endless number of cows, burros and dogs.

Also, at intervals of 30 miles, motorists must stop for inspection by rifle-toting soldiers of the Mexican Army and civilian patrols. The Army presence is even more noticeable along the coast between Playa Azul and Acapulco, although the checkpoints have nothing to do with the earthquake, but are part of what one soldier called "our new war on drugs."

All along that highway, shacks have been flattened, mountainsides loosened and the people frightened by the earthquake and its aftershocks. One gas station attendant said it seemed as though the earth had been shaking every hour since the first quake.

But here again there was relatively little human suffering, especially compared to Mexico City and Ciudad Guzman.

This week Michoacan's governor, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, arrived in the city named in honor of his father, Lazaro Cardenas, who as president of Mexico nationalized the oil companies in 1936.

Dressed in a guayabera shirt, the governor said he had come to the earthquake's starting place to assess the damage. He met with a large groups of area merchants, industrialists, power and oil company officials and soldiers.

By U.S. standards, the session was remarkably open, with no subalterns guarding the door. Anyone who wanted to sit in and speak was allowed to do so.

The local officials estimated that there had been several million dollars' worth of damage to buildings, canals and roads. They said the schools would be closed for another two weeks.

"The preservation of our way of life is of great importance," the governor told the people. "Life in Lazaro Cardenas will go on."

Washington Post news aide Gardner Selby, in Mexico, contributed to this report.