Dust and smoke rises from the streets of Mexico City after a magnitude-7.1 earthquake on Tuesday. Photo by Edgar Cabalceta/EPA-EFE
Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico on Tuesday, killing more than 200 people, including at least 20 elementary school children their school collapsed in Mexico City.
The director of Mexico's civil protection agency, Luis Felipe Puente, tweeted Wednesday morning that 216 people had been counted among the dead so far. At least 86 people were killed in the country's capital of Mexico City; 71 in Morelos; 43 in Puebla; 12 in Edoméx; three in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.
At the elementary school in Mexico City where at least 20 children died, 30 more children and eight adults are still missing, said Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
As rescue workers search through the rubble in several of Mexico's states, there is fear that the death toll could climb significantly.
"It's like Sodom and Gomorrah, like God is angry at us," Jorge Ortiz Diaz, a government employee helping rescue workers, told the New York Times. "Now is the moment when solidarity begins."
Morales Gov. Graco Ramirez posted a tally of the dead in his state on Twitter; the hardest hit municipality was the town of Jojutla, where 12 people died.
"We are taking care of families," he said. "Our united strength."
The quake took place 32 years to the day after a 8.1 massive quake devastated the country, claiming thousands of lives.
The epicenter of the temblor was located about 34 miles south-southwest of Puebla, about 76 miles southeast of Mexico City and 31 miles below the surface, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
People in Mexico City said they felt the earthquake when it struck about midday Tuesday. It sent thousands running into the streets as buildings evacuated.
"I was working when I felt the whole building shaking," Luther Beatriz Ramirez, a government employee, told Bloomberg. "Everything started falling. It was like it was in ruins."
"We ran out of the building; we were really scared."
At least 40 buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone.
Rescuers and civilians dug among the debris, attempting to search for residents trapped in apartment buildings.
In the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods in the capital, there was a smell of gas, and emergency officials asked people there not to light cigarettes. Widespread power outages were reported throughout the region.
Jamie Hernandez, general director of the state-owned utilities, said on Twitter that some 3.8 million people were without power.
Tony Gali, the governor of Pueblo state, confirmed there were casualties in his state. He said classes at all private and public institutions throughout the state were suspended.
"We deeply regret the loss of life following the earthquake," he tweeted. "My government is acting and providing all the necessary support."
There were reports some people were trapped inside collapsed buildings.
Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, posted a video to Twitter showing one building instantly crumble.
The BBC said multiple fires were reported throughout the region and Mexico City's airport suspended operations.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted that he was in Oaxaca and immediately returning to Mexico City to "address the situation." His plane, though, was unable to land in the capital, so he surveilled the damage from the air.
"I have called the national emergency committee to assess the situation and coordinate actions," he said.
On Sept. 19, 1985, a 7-magnitude earthquake struck the greater Mexico City area, causing the deaths of at least 5,000 people. Tuesday's quake comes two weeks after an 8.1-magnitude temblor killed dozens of people in Oaxaca state.
Tuesday's quake hit while some people in the capital were carrying out earthquake drills to mark the anniversary of the 1985 disaster.
Don Blakeman, a geophysicist with the USGS, told the Post that Mexico City was partly built on lake sediment, which can amplify seismic activity. Damage in those areas is worse than areas built on more solid ground.
"Fifty kilometers is pretty shallow so I would expect aftershocks," he said.