Deadly Quake Strikes Central Mexico

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, January 23, 2003 (ENS) - A powerful earthquake rocked the city of Colima in central Mexico last night, leaving some 30 people dead and more than 160 others injured. Rescue workers and desperate relatives spent the night digging through the rubble searching for survivors. As damage assessments continue today, government officials are warning that the death toll could rise as rescue crews move into remote areas.

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Map of Mexico showing the location of the quake (Photo courtesy Mexican Seismological Service)
The earthquake occurred in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of Colima, according to the the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which recorded a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter Scale. The National Seismological Center in Mexico City calculated a slightly lower magnitude of 7.6.

The earth movements were felt in Mexico City, 500 kilometers (300 miles) to the east of Colima and in the states of Puebla and Tlaxcala.The international airport in Mexico City was brought to a standstill, and buildings swayed as the quake rolled under them.

The temblor occurred at 8:06 pm local time (0206 GMT today) and lasted one minute, disrupting the electrical supply and telecommunications in Colima, in the port city of Manzanillo, and in the cities of Michoacan and Jalisco.

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The city of Colima before the quake. (Photo courtesy Global Programs)
President Vincente Fox has asked the Ministry of Defense to conduct an immediate assessment of the area hit by the quake, and has ordered the provision of relief aid to the affected population. The states of Jalisco and Michoacan have sent relief supplies and emergency personnel to the neighboring state of Colima.

The Mexican Red Cross raced into action, offering personnel and relief goods. Red Cross staff and volunteers are participating in the rescue and relief work in coordination with Civil Defense and the local authorities. Mexican Red Cross volunteers are providing first aid to the injured.

Red Cross volunteers in Colima are reporting that many houses have collapsed and many buildings have been destroyed. Red Cross volunteer Marta Requena said there is a shortage of medicines.

According to the the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Hazards Office (USGS), this shallow earthquake occurred in a seismically active zone near the coast of central Mexico. The earthquake occurred near the juncture of three tectonic plates: the North American Plate to the northeast, the Rivera Plate to the northwest, and the Cocos Plate to the south. Both the Rivera Plate and the Cocos Plate are being consumed beneath the North American Plate, the USGS explained.

"This is the strongest earthquake in terms of magnitude to hit Mexico in the last 10 years," said Santiago Gil, head of the Red Cross Americas Department.

Colima

A street in downtown Colima before the quake (Photo courtesy David Rogge and Doris Nerding)
Other major earthquakes have shaken this region in the past. In 1932, a magnitude 8.4 thrust earthquake struck about 100 kilometers (62 miles) to the north-northwest.

More recently, on October 9, 1995 a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck about 50 km to the northwest killing at least 49 people and leaving 1,000 homeless.

But the quake people cannot forget occurred about 170 kilometers to the southeast on September 19, 1985. This magnitude 8.0 earthquake killed some 9,500 people, injured about 30,000, and left 100,000 people homeless.

"A lot of people have remembered the 1985 earthquake when we suffered a tremendous earthquake that killed around 10,000 people, injured hundreds of thousands and left a similar number of people homeless," said a Red Cross volunteer.