TEMPO.CO, Juchitan, Mexico - At least 61 people died when the most powerful earthquake to hit Mexico in over eight decades. The quake caused buildings torn apart and forced mass evacuations in the poor southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, triggering alerts as far away as Southeast Asia.
The 8.1 magnitude quake off the southern coast late Thursday was stronger than a devastating 1985 temblor that flattened swathes of Mexico City and killed thousands.
The tremor rattled Mexico City and shook Guatemala and El Salvador, but the Oaxacan town of Juchitan bore the brunt of the disaster, with sections of the town hall, a hotel, a church, a bar and other buildings reduced to rubble.
Dalia Vasquez, a 55-year old cook, said she watched emergency workers haul the bodies of her elderly neighbor and her middle-aged son from their collapsed home.
Her own house was badly damaged. Frightened by the possibility of aftershocks, she planned to sleep with dozens more in the streets and parks. "We have nothing now. We don't have any savings," she said.
President Enrique Pena Nieto flew to the battered town to oversee rescue efforts. The town's mayor, Gloria Sanchez, called it "the most terrible moment" in Juchitan's history.
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.
Startled residents stepped through the rubble of about 100 wrecked buildings, including houses, a flattened Volkswagendealershipand Juchitan's shattered town hall. Scores paced the terrain or sat outside warily, mindful of the frequent aftershocks and reliving the night's terror.
"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, sitting in 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."
All the deaths were in three neighboring states clustered near the epicenter that lay about 70 km (40 miles) off the coast.
At least 45 people died in Oaxaca, many of them in Juchitan, while in Chiapas the count reached 12 and in Tabasco, four people lost their lives, according to federal and state officials.
In Chiapas, home to many of Mexico's indigenous ethnic groups, thousands of people in coastal areas were evacuated as a precaution when the quake sparked tsunami warnings, but only two-foot waves were produced by the quake.
State oil company Pemex said there was no structural damage to its 330,000 barrel-per-day Salina Cruz refinery, which it had shut down as a precaution, but it said it was checking problems in the electrical system before restarting the plant.