Scientists say latest 6.1 aftershock in Mexico is ‘not surprising’
new earthquake sent residents streaming into the streets of Mexico City early Saturday, creating a fresh wave of alarm in a country still reeling from two powerful earthquakes over the past three weeks.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the new temblor, which hit just before 8 a.m. local time with a magnitude of 6.1, was centered about 325 miles southeast of Mexico City in the state of Oaxaca, the region that took the brunt of the earlier magnitude 8.1 quake on Sept. 7.
Saturday’s quake came as rescue crews continued to search for survivors in hard-hit villages and cities across central Mexico.
Carlos Valdes, director of the National Center for Disaster Prevention, said at a news conference Saturday that rescue efforts were briefly paused because of the new earthquake alert.
“But immediately seeing that there was no major earthquake and no affected structures, the work continued immediately,” he said. “The search and rescue of living people — that is what is important.”
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told Mexican television that rescue attempts will continue, with crews concentrating on eight collapsed buildings around the capital. He said there are thousands of workers involved in the effort, more than 10,500 army and navy personnel, plus 50,000 city employees.
Mancera said approximately 30 people could still be alive amid the rubble.
Around 4,000 workers are inspecting 3,500 buildings reported around the city for structural damage. Access to those ruled as at-risk is restricted, Mancera said, and people cannot go in even to retrieve their belongings.
Though Saturday morning’s quake did not cause major structural damage, it claimed at least two lives in the capital. Mancera said two women, ages 52 and 83, apparently died of heart attacks after having nervous breakdowns during the earthquake.
Authorities in the state of Oaxaca said Saturday’s quake resulted in two deaths — a woman killed when a wall tumbled on top of her, and a man who was attacked by a swarm of bees apparently disturbed by the seismic movement. Both deaths occurred in the town of Asuncion Ixtaltepec, said Heliodoro Diaz Azcarraga, head of civil protection in the state, speaking to a local radio station.
There were no immediate reports of major new damage in Mexico City, but authorities in Oaxaca said the strong aftershock caused new damage to homes and other structures already weakened by the Sept. 7 temblor.
Mancera said that the deaths of the two women Saturday in Mexico City brought the total number of fatalities in the capital to 167 — 110 females and 57 males. Twenty-seven of those killed were children.
The earlier Sept. 7 quake, an 8.1 temblor centered off the shore of southern Mexico, killed nearly 100, mostly in Oaxaca and neighboring Chiapas state.
Saturday’s temblor was likely an aftershock of the Sept. 7 quake, officials said.
“We’re calling it an aftershock of the 8.1,” U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist John Bellini said. “An 8.1 is expected to have several aftershocks in the 6 range. … The 6 is not surprising.”
Authorities have registered more than 4,000 aftershocks from the Sept. 7 quake, but Saturday’s appeared to be the strongest.
Quake alarms sounded throughout Mexico City on Saturday, and spooked residents dashed from homes and hotels. Electrical cables shook, and some buildings swayed.
But most of the damage appeared to be centered closer to the quake, in the state of Oaxaca.
Homes tottering from the Sept. 7 earthquake showed new cracks and in some cases collapsed in the city of Juchitan, the principal municipality on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Thousands of people who had to evacuate their homes there on Sept. 7 have been living under plastic tarps.
Outside Juchitan, in the hard-hit town of Asuncion Ixtaltepec where 80% of residences were rendered uninhabitable on Sept. 7, some homes fell or showed new fissures.
A bridge that had been damaged by the earlier quake was split in half and teetering on the verge of collapse following Saturday’s aftershock.
Damage also was reported at a nearby military airbase that has been a central point for deliveries of food and other aid to Oaxaca. A hospital was evacuated in the port city of Salina Cruz in Oaxaca state.
Authorities in the city of Oaxaca, the capital of Oaxaca state, reported only minor damage, including cracks on the bell tower of a colonial-era church.
In Mexico City, officials temporarily suspended rescue operations that have been ongoing since Tuesday’s quake until specialists have had a chance to evaluate any new risks.
Initial reports indicated no new major damage in the capital, but many remain on edge since Tuesday’s devastating quake.
“People are paranoid, nervous. They don’t know if they can stay at home in any moment or have to run out,” said Mayela Ruiz, 31, one of a number of volunteers handing out food, clothing and other basics in the trendy Condesa district in Mexico City, which suffered extensive damage in Tuesday’s quake. “One’s feelings go from panic to nervousness in a moment.”
Saturday’s quake was felt lightly in the Condesa neighborhood, parts of which have a near-abandoned feel since thousands have evacuated from shaky homes. Some cafes and restaurants reopened Saturday, only to have panicked diners rush out the doors.
Guadalupe Guarrdarama found herself reliving Tuesday’s nightmare. She went out in the street crying, wondering whether a building near her home that has been on the verge of collapse would finally fall.
Guarrdarama works in a restaurant in the Mercado Medellin in the Roma neighborhood, selling hearty fare. After the initial quake Tuesday, she had found herself struggling to breathe as others tried to calm her. She has felt a heavy weight sitting on her chest since and has begun to wonder whether she needs to speak to a psychologist.
“I feel anxious. I don’t feel safe,” she said.
“I feel anguished, afraid,” said Angelica Salas, who was at home in the Roma neighborhood when the aftershock occurred. “I thought the house would fall last time, so you think the same thing.”
Emergency workers have been combing through the ruins of at least eight collapsed buildings in the capital seeking possible survivors. They must sift through fragile piles of debris that can pose a danger of collapsing anew.
At least 30 people are believed to be missing in the rubble, Mancera told Mexican television.
About 3,000 structures in Mexico City suffered damage, and close to 40 buildings collapsed in Tuesday’s quake, authorities have said.
Bellini, the USGS scientist, said Saturday’s aftershock occurred at the northern edge of a field of aftershocks that have occurred since the Sept. 7 quake.
“This one is shallower, in the upper part of the crust, but in the northern edge of the aftershock field after the 8,” Bellini said.
The Sept. 7 earthquake was so large that the area of rock underneath the earth that moved was about 2,400 square miles long, or roughly half the size of Los Angeles County. There have been more than 100 aftershocks greater than magnitude 4.5.