By Julia Love
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.4 struck the coast of southern Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least one person, buckling paved roads, and setting off a tsunami in nearby Pacific coastal areas.
One person died in the state of Oaxaca, Governor Alejandro Murat said, after the quake hit the Pacific coastal state mid-morning.
The country’s seismological service said a tsunami on the Oaxaca coast was ongoing, with the sea level having risen 60 centimeters (2 feet) at Huatulco beach, a popular destination for U.S. and Canadian tourists.
Mexico’s civil protection agency recommended that residents move away from the coastline. Videos on social media had earlier shown the ocean’s water receding in Oaxaca, a mountainous state that is also home to coffee plantations and Spanish colonial architecture.
Miguel Candelaria, 30, was working at his computer in his family home in the Oaxaca town of Juchitan when the ground began to tremble. He ran outside with relatives, but they had to stop in the middle of the street as the pavement buckled and rocked.
“We couldn’t walk… the street was like chewing gum,” said Candelaria, 30.
Neighbors screamed in terror and some shouted out warnings to run from the electricity poles that looked poised to fall, said Candelaria, who works in telecommunications marketing.
Quakes of magnitudes over 7 are major earthquakes capable of widespread, heavy damage. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck central Mexico in 2017 killed 355 people in the capital and the surrounding states.
Tuesday’s quake set off a tsunami warning for the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central and South America. Waves of up to one meter (3.28 ft) were possible on the Mexican coast, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned.
Buildings shook in Mexico City, hundreds of miles away.
Helicopters flew low over the Roma and Condesa districts of the capital, apparently looking for damage in streets where many buildings still show the scars of the 2017 quake.
The city’s mayor said there were two people injured but no major damage from the quake, which hit as millions of people were at home in lockdown due to the coronavirus.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the epicenter of Tuesday’s quake was located 69 km (43 miles) northeast of the town of Pochutla.
It was very shallow, only 26 km (16 miles) below the earth’s surface, which would have amplified the shaking.
Near to the epicenter, Magdalena Castellanos Fermin was in the village of Santiago Astata when the quake struck, sending large rocks tumbling down from the hillside and alarming residents, she told Reuters by telephone.
“It was really intense, really strong,” she said.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Julia Love, Adriana Barrera, Stefanie Eschenbacher, Dave Graham and Anthony Esposito in Mexico City and Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)