Mexico’s double whammy of woe
MEXICO CITY One of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded in Mexico is being followed by a second national emergency, with Hurricane Katia making landfall north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state yesterday amid intense rains.
The United States National Hurricane Centre said Katia’s maximum sustained winds had dropped to 120kmh, making it a Category 1 storm, but it was still expected to bring life-threatening floods and a dangerous storm surge off the Gulf of Mexico.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a televised address that 61 people were killed by the quake – 45 in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco – and declared three days of national mourning.
The worst-hit city was Juchitan, on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where 36 people died. About half of the city hall collapsed in a pile of rubble, and the streets were littered with the debris of ruined houses.
A hospital also collapsed, Pena Nieto said after touring the city and meeting with residents. The patients were relocated to other facilities.
He said authorities were working to re-establish the supply of water and food and provide medical attention to those who needed it. He vowed that the government would help people rebuild, and called for people to come together.
‘‘The power of this earthquake was devastating, but we are certain that the power of unity, the power of solidarity and the power of shared responsibility will be greater,’’ Pena Nieto said.
Facades of shattered buildings, fallen tiles and broken glass from shop fronts and banks littered the pavements of Juchitan while heavily armed soldiers patrolled and stood guard at areas cordoned off due to the extent of the damage.
Dalia Vasquez, a 55-year-old cook, said she watched emergency workers pull the bodies of her elderly neighbour and her middleaged son from their collapsed home.
Her own house was badly damaged. Frightened by the possibility of aftershocks, she said she planned to sleep with dozens more in the streets and parks.
‘‘We have nothing now. We don’t have any savings,’’ she said.
‘‘It was brutal, brutal. It was like a monster, like a train was passing over our roofs,’’ said Jesus Mendoza, 53, as he milled about in a park across from the damaged town hall.
Alma Rosa, holding a vigil with a relative by the body of a loved one draped in a red shroud, said: ‘‘We went to buy a coffin, but there aren’t any because there are so many bodies.’’
The capital, Mexico City, REUTERS escaped major damage, but the quake terrified sleeping residents, many of whom still remember the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city.
Elsewhere, the extent of the destruction was still emerging. Hundreds of buildings collapsed or were damaged, power was cut to more than 1.8 million people, and authorities have closed schools in at least 11 states to check them for safety.
The Interior Department reported that 428 homes were destroyed and 1700 damaged in various cities and towns in Chiapas.
‘‘Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed,’’ said Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, who warned that the inclement weather threatened to bring more down.
‘‘Right now it is raining very hard in Tonala, and with the rains it gets much more complicated because the homes were left very weak, with cracks.’’
The earthquake hit off Chiapas’s Pacific coast, near the Guatemalan border, with a magnitude of 8.1 – equal to Mexico’s strongest quake of the past century. It was slightly stronger than the 1985 quake, the US Geological Survey said. The epicentre was in a seismic hotspot in the Pacific where one tectonic plate dives under another.
In neighbouring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales appeared on national television to call for calm while emergency crews surveyed the damage. Officials later said only four people had been injured and several dozen homes damaged.
In Veracruz, tourists are abandoning coastal hotels as winds and rains picked up ahead of Katia’s expected landfall. Workers have set up emergency shelters and cleared storm drains, and residents are being urged to avoid going outside or crossing flooded rivers. AP, Reuters
A man picks his way through the wreckage of a house in Juchitan, the city worst hit by the magnitude 8.1 earthquake that rocked Mexico on Friday. On the other side of the country, Hurricane Katia has made landfall with winds of 120kmh and heavy rain.
An injured Juchitan resident retrieves a blender from the kitchen of his house after it was destroyed by the quake.