A powerful earthquake rattled Mexico City office towers and damaged hundreds of adobe houses in the Pacific Coast state of Oaxaca today, leaving at least 14 people dead across southern Mexico.

Damage from the quake, which registered a magnitude of 7.5, was not widespread. But the tremors sent hundreds of thousands of frightened people into the streets of cities and villages from West Coast resort communities to the downtown business district of the capital.

Nine of the reported deaths occurred in Oaxaca. The victims included two women whose house collapsed on them, a man killed by falling debris as he ran from his office and a 9-year-old girl who died of a heart attack, according to Oaxaca Gov. Jose Murat Casab.

An elderly woman in Mexico City also died of a heart attack, and a 70-year-old woman in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz died when her head hit the street after she tripped while fleeing her house, according to Mexican radio reports.

In Mexico City, thousands of terrified office workers poured into the main streets as office buildings swayed above them and sidewalks heaved beneath their feet. In some neighborhoods, the force of the earthquake bounced parked cars onto sidewalks.

Although earthquakes are common in southern Mexico, today's 11:30 a.m. tremors prompted high levels of panic because of the force of shock waves that continued for several minutes and heightened fears due to recent earthquakes in Turkey and Taiwan.

The earthquake's epicenter reportedly was between the Pacific Coast resort towns of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco, about 275 miles southeast of Mexico City. An estimated 400 houses and nearly 70 miles of highways were damaged in Oaxaca, according to the governor's office. The quake left cracks in the walls of the historic building that houses the state government offices in the capital city, also called Oaxaca, according to state officials.

The state was left without telephone communications for about 45 minutes following the earthquake, Murat said in a radio interview.

Today's earthquake was the second major tremor to hit Mexico in less than four months. A June 15 temblor measuring 6.7 left 17 people dead and damaged thousands of buildings, including many historic churches in the south-central state of Puebla. Mexico's deadliest earthquake in modern times occurred Sept. 15, 1985, when a temblor with a magnitude of 8.1 killed at least 9,500, most of them in Mexico City.