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Death toll rises from Tuesday’s Mexico earthquake

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Hundreds of homes and businesses damaged

A powerful earthquake struck south-central Mexico Tuesday, and the death toll has risen to six since FreightWaves first reported on the tremor Tuesday afternoon.

“We lost everything in one moment to nature.” – Vicente Romero, earthquake survivor and business owner in Mexico.

The fatalities were near the quake’s epicenter in Oaxaca, a mountainous state known for its coffee, mescal and Spanish colonial architecture.

The 7.4-magnitude quake struck late morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Its epicenter was along the Pacific coast about seven miles southwest of Santa María Zapotitlán, near the beach resort of Huatuco, and shook buildings hundreds of miles away in the country’s capital of Mexico City.

The USGS estimated that 2 million people felt strong or moderate shaking and another 49 million felt weak or light shaking.

Reuters reported that rockfalls blocked mountain roads in the region, cutting off isolated villages where people were injured.

Houses were scarred by wide cracks across walls. About 200 houses in the area were damaged, including 30 that were badly impacted, a local official told Reuters.

“We lost everything in one moment to nature,” said Vicente Romero, an owner of a stationery store whose house was damaged. “This is our life’s work.”

Rockfalls blocked winding mountain roads between the state capital of Oaxaca City and the coast. Rescue workers reported three people were seriously injured in the remote hill village of Santa Catarina Xanaguia, a state official said.

Federal civil defense authorities reported the death of a worker at the state-run oil company, Pemex. During the earthquake, the man died after he fell from a refinery structure.

Pemex officials also said the quake caused a fire at its refinery in the coastal city of Salina Cruz, near the quake’s epicenter. One worker was injured and the flames were quickly extinguished.

“There will be aftershocks,” USGS seismologist Paul Earle told the Associated Press. “It is not unexpected to see a magnitude 6 at this point and a number of smaller ones.”

The earthquake also prompted the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to issue a tsunami threat message Tuesday. This message indicated the potential for hazardous tsunami waves within approximately 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) of the epicenter, including forecast increasing wave heights of less than a foot high in Hawaii.

Tuesday’s earthquake was not the first strong one to jolt the south-central region in recent years. In September 2017, an 8.1-magnitude quake struck off the southern coast of Mexico, killing at least 60 people. The U.S. Geological Survey said that Tuesday’s earthquake was “near the northern end of the aftershock distribution” of the 2017 event.

Tuesday’s tremor hit a quake-prone region where four underground tectonic plates come together. In the past 35 years, this area has been hit by at least seven magnitude 7 or greater earthquakes, killing around 10,000 people — most of them in a 1985 8.0 quake.

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