Mexico quake: Officials say death toll reduced, but likely to rise again

A view over Mexico City Tuesday shows severe damage from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 200 people and caused substantial damage. Photo by EFE-STR/EPA

By Ed Adamczyk – UPI

Emergency personnel are searching for survivors Wednesday and officials are getting a preliminary assessment on damage just hours after a massive 7.1-magnitude earthquake rocked central Mexico.

The powerful quake hit Tuesday afternoon in Chiautla de Tapia, a small town in Puebla state 80 miles south of Mexico City, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Officials said the death toll was at 217 by Wednesday morning — more than 100 in Mexico City alone. Twelve more people were found dead in the state of Mexico, outside of the capital; 72 died in the state of Morales, 43 in Puebla , three in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

The quake collapsed an elementary school and dozens of other buildings. Twenty children died and 30 are missing, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said as he visited the school in southeastern Mexico City. Two adults died and eight are missing.

Mexico’s education department later said 25 bodies were found at the school, where the concrete floors of a three-story building fell.

The Mexican Civil Defense Agency revised the death toll downward from 248 without explanation early Wednesday, but the number of collapsed buildings suggests the count will likely rise.

Rescue efforts are well underway across the quake-prone country, which is still recovering from an 8.1-magnitude earthquake less than two weeks ago. While Tuesday’s earthquake was less severe, it occurred in a more densely populated area of Mexico.

The quake caused extensive damage to central Mexico City buildings. Apartment blocks in the historic districts of El Centro and Roma swayed and cracked, officials said. As night fell Tuesday, it and other cities were without electricity.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has clashed with Pena Nieto over border issues, said in a Twitter message, “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said his state would “offer any support to aid Mexico,” and a spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “the United Nations stands ready to assist.”

Incidentally, the major seismic event happened just hours after an annual earthquake drill in the Mexican capital — which was implemented after a devastating 8.0 quake hit Mexico City on the exact same day, Sept. 19, in 1985. It killed more than 6,000 people.

Mexico was also hit by Hurricane Katia earlier this month, and the Popocateptl volcano, southeast of Mexico City, vented a large cloud of ash on Tuesday.