Nearly 150 people were killed Tuesday when a powerful, rumbling earthquake rocked Mexico’s largest city, toppling dozens of buildings and sending panic-stricken residents and workers into debris-covered streets.
Neighbors and volunteers joined desperate rescue workers in hardhats as they used their bare hands and buckets to dig through pancaked rubble in a frenzied search for survivors in collapsed structures that included office buildings and several churches.
At least two children were trapped under rubble at the entrance of a school in Mexico City, according to local reports. Fifty to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens from crumbled structures in the capital, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said.
The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the magnitude at 7.1 and said the epicenter of the quake, which struck at 2:14 p.m. eastern time, was the town of Raboso in Puebla State, about 76 miles southwest of Mexico City, the capital.
The earthquake struck at a depth of about 33 miles, officials said.
“We have some buildings where we have reports that there could be people inside. They are doing it with lots of caution,” said interior secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who flew over the area to inspect the damage, said dozens of buildings had flattened, with the number likely to rise.
Mexico City’s international airport temporarily suspended operations. Video posted on social media showed a giant crevice in front of its entrance.
Flights into Mexico City were temporarily rerouted to other cities, but the airport reopened after checks were completed.
Footage filmed inside an office building showed the overhead lights swinging violently as the ground shook.
Other video showed the side of a government building shearing off and falling into the street as bystanders screamed. Cars were smashed by falling debris.
The temblor knocked out power to millions across the country.
“We got out really fast, leaving everything as it was and just left,” Rosaura Suarez told Reuters as she stood with a crowd on the street in Mexico City.
Just hours earlier, workplaces across the city were prepping drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake that killed 10,000 people and injured 30,000 others in Mexico City.
The quake came just over a week after a magnitude-8.1 earthquake struck off the southern coast of the country, that left at least 90 dead.
Officials said the two earthquakes were unrelated.
Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil is known to amplify the effects of earthquakes even hundreds of miles away, officials said.
At least 149 people perished in the quake. The highest death toll was in Morelos State, just south of the capital, where 64 deaths were reported, said Luis Felipe Puente, head of the nation’s civil protection agency. In Mexico City, at least 36 people died, he said.
“God bless the people of Mexico City,” President Trump tweeted in response to the quake. “We are with you and will be there for you.”
“I extend my deepest condolences to the people of Mexico City,” tweeted Gov. Cuomo. “New York grieves with you tonight.”
Hospitals that suffered damage were ordered to evacuate.
Mexican stocks and the peso dropped on news of the earthquake, and Mexico’s stock exchange suspended trading. The country’s education secretary announced that all schools were closed across six states and Mexico City until further notice.
The quake also appeared to trigger an eruption of the Popocatépetl volcano, roughly halfway between Puebla and Mexico City.
Adrian Wilson, a photographer from New York City who was visiting his fiancée, was eating in the capital when the earthquake struck.
“I was having lunch when the floor gently rocked as if a big truck went by,” Wilson told CNN.
“It then amplified in waves and the whole room started shaking. The building is from the 1930s and .. . survived a big earthquake, so I knew I would be OK. The doors were flapping open, the windows, everything.”
Social media was filled with videos of buildings swaying and shedding concrete. Streets were filled with the sounds of sirens and chaos. Cell phone service was interrupted in many areas, and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.
Police roped off entire blocks because of the fears that gas leaks could cause explosions.
More than 3,400 soldiers were deployed in areas affected by the earthquake, according to NBC News.
Some rescuers grabbed shopping carts from a grocery store and formed a human chain to haul away rubble. Onlookers cheered as a woman was pulled from the debris in one hard-hit area.
First responders immediately called for silence so that they could listen for others who might be trapped.
Carlos Mendoza, 30, caked from head to toe in dust, said that he and other volunteers were able to pull two people out alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building after three hours of effort.
“We saw this and came to help,” he said. “It’s ugly, very ugly.”
Gala Dluzhynska was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on trendy Alvaro Obregon street when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.
“There were no stairs anymore,” she said. “There were rocks.”
With News Wire Services
With Denis Slattery