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Powerful Earthquake Rocks Mexico City


A powerful earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 rocked Mexico today. There are reports that some people have died, though it's not clear how many. The quake struck southeast of Mexico City, but it violently shook the capital. Photos on social media show mountains of debris where buildings once stood. And city officials say other buildings caught fire after the quake, which trapped people inside. Joining us now from Mexico City is Dudley Althaus of The Wall Street Journal. Thank you very much for joining us, Dudley.


CHANG: So when exactly today did this quake hit?

ALTHAUS: It hit about 1:15 in the afternoon, a little more than two hours after Mexico City had an earthquake drill which commemorated the 32nd anniversary...

CHANG: Oh, wow.

ALTHAUS: ...Of the devastating 1985 earthquake, which killed about 6,000 people, at least, in the capital.

CHANG: Literally right after an earthquake drill. What did this quake feel like?

ALTHAUS: It felt (laughter) like earthquakes. It shook very hard.

CHANG: Sure. Yeah.

ALTHAUS: It bucked a little bit. Mexico City is built on - a lot of Mexico City is built on the former lake bed that the Aztecs built their capital on. And that lake bed is like a bowl of gelatin. And when we get earthquakes, even distant earthquakes, we feel them strongly here. This was about 70 miles south of Mexico City. Even though it was weaker than the earthquake that hit southern Mexico, two weeks ago...

CHANG: Yeah.

ALTHAUS: ...It felt a lot stronger here.

CHANG: Can you give us a little more detail about the extent of the damage in Mexico City?

ALTHAUS: The damage - city officials are saying 29 buildings have collapsed. There's many more buildings than that that are damaged. In total, there's 51 people reported dead so far. That's got to go up. Only four of those 51 are in Mexico City. Most are in Morelos state, which is just south of Mexico City, which includes the city of Cuernavaca.

CHANG: And as you mentioned, the center of the quake - it was southeast of Mexico City in the state of Puebla. And I imagine the infrastructure there in Puebla is different. What are you hearing about the damage there?

ALTHAUS: We haven't heard enough about the damage in Puebla. Puebla City, actually, is a colonial city. And it actually has suffered a lot in past earthquakes, with colonial churches collapsing and other things. But there've been no reports that we've seen so far of fatalities yet. But we expect that to go up, as well.

CHANG: Today, as has already been noted, is the 30th anniversary of another powerful earthquake that hit Mexico City. That one killed thousands of people. And just a couple of weeks ago, a very large earthquake struck the coast of southern Mexico. Does it feel like this country is really on edge right now?

ALTHAUS: Well, we've had - in the past 12 days, we've had two earthquakes and three hurricanes. So, yeah, people are a bit on edge.

CHANG: Has president Enrique Pena Nieto or other officials come out to speak about this?

ALTHAUS: Yes. Pena Nieto was, in fact, on his way to Oaxaca - he was flying to Oaxaca to oversee relief efforts from the earthquake there on September 7, which killed about a hundred people. But he turned around and came right back here. And he's put out statements, you know, to keep calm. They've enacted a, you know, emergency plan. There's troops in the streets. There's a lot of volunteers. We expect - what you see in Mexico City - you can see on your television. But there's a lot of buildings that just pancaked - and in the areas of Mexico City, basically, where the '85 earthquake caused the most damage. So this is very traumatic for a lot of people.


ALTHAUS: There's a lot of people - thousands of people - out helping, trying to help clear rubble...


ALTHAUS: ...And search for people.

CHANG: We'll have to leave it there.

ALTHAUS: There's a school with a hundred children, at least, trapped.

CHANG: That's Dudley Althaus of The Wall Street Journal. Thank you very much.

ALTHAUS: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.