Powerful earthquake shakes southern Mexico, at least 5 dead

MEXICO CITY (AP) - A major earthquake near Huatulco, a resort in southern Mexico, killed at least five people on Tuesday, affected buildings in Mexico City, and fled thousands to the streets.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said one person was killed in a building collapse in Huatulco, Oaxaca. Otherwise, he said the reports were affected by minor damage from the 7.4 magnitude quake, including broken windows and collapsed walls. Alejandro Murat, governor of Oaxaca, said a second person had been killed in an apparent house collapse in the mountain village of San Juan Ozolotepec, and a third person had died in circumstances that he had not explained.
Federal civil defense officials reported two more deaths: a worker from the state-owned oil company Pemex died as a result of a refinery structure, and a man died in the village of San Agustin Amatengo in Oaxaca when a wall fell on him.
Pemex also said the quake caused a fire at its refinery in the city of Salina Cruz on the Pacific coast, relatively close to the epicenter. It was said that a worker had been injured and the flames were quickly extinguished. Churches, bridges and highways were also damaged during the quake.
López Obrador said there were more than 140 aftershocks, most of them small.
In the morning, seismic alarms sounded with enough warnings so that residents could leave the building. The power supply was switched off in some areas.
Helicopters flew over downtown Mexico City and police patrols sounded their sirens.
About an hour after the quake, groups of people were still bustling around the streets and sidewalks in some quarters of the capital. Despite earlier requests from community officials, many did not wear masks to curb the spread of the new corona virus.
In a military barracks in Mexico City converted to the COVID-19 hospital, medical personnel equipped with protective equipment tried to calm anxious patients. The patients were unable to evacuate isolation areas and huddled under a large bar in the women's ward while a nurse tried to calm a person with a panic attack.
Teresa Juárez could only hope that it would go quickly from her hospital bed, where she was connected to oxygen. Diabetic and with high blood pressure, Juárez said that she had thought of her five children. "It's terrible, you are here and you don't know what to do," she said.
According to the US Geologic Survey, the quake occurred at 10:29 a.m. (11:29 a.m. East) along the south Pacific coast of Mexico at a depth of 26 km. The epicenter was 12 km southwest of Santa Maria Zapotitlan in the state of Oaxaca
It was felt in Guatemala and throughout southern and central Mexico.
In Huatulco, a laid-back beach destination known for surfing and small sheltered bays, the earthquake threw goods off the shelves and some debris from buildings.
Mari González of the Princess Mayev Hotel in Huatulco said that staff and guests were able to evacuate the building before the quake, but they were still outside 45 minutes after the first quake because the strong aftershocks continued.
"It was strong, very strong," she said.
González said there were some visible pieces of broken glass and mirrors, but no major damage. The staff waited for the aftershocks to resolve before fully evaluating the property.
Local news media reported damage to some buildings in the state capital, Oaxaca. State officials said they were looking for damage.
The USGS estimated that about 2 million people trembled heavily or moderately, and another 49 million trembled weakly or slightly.
The earthquake struck a quake-prone region where four underground tectonic plates come together. There have been at least seven magnitude 7 or higher earthquakes in the past 35 years that have killed approximately 10,000 people - most of them in a magnitude 8.0 quake in 1985.
"This can be a fatal earthquake and can cause significant damage," said Paul Earle, seismologist at the US Geological Survey. "This area is capable of and has had major earthquakes in the past."
"There will be aftershocks," said Earle. "It is not unexpected to see a strength 6 and a number of smaller ones at this point."
This quake happened when the Cocos plate, which is located in the southwest of the area, slid under the North American plate, Earle said.
"They have all kinds of plates and they move quickly," said Earle. "The important thing is how quickly the plates move relative to each other."
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Associate press writers Chris Torchia in Mexico City and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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