MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 139 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.
Dozens of buildings tumbled into mounds of rubble or were severely damaged in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby states. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 places in the capital alone as high-rises across the city swayed sickeningly.
The quake is the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 quake on the same date killed thousands. It came less than two weeks after another powerful quake caused 90 deaths in the country’s south.
Luis Felipe Puente, head of the national Civil Defense agency, tweeted Tuesday night that the confirmed death toll had risen to 139.
His tweet said 64 people died in Morelos state, just south of Mexico City, though local officials reported only 54. In addition, 36 were killed in the capital, 29 in Puebla state, nine in the State of Mexico and one in Guerrero state, he said.
The count did not include one death that officials in the southern state of Oaxaca reported earlier as quake-related.
Mancera, the Mexico City mayor, said 50 to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens and emergency workers in the capital. Authorities said at least 70 people in the capital had been hospitalized for injuries.
The federal interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, said authorities had reports of people possibly still being trapped in collapsed buildings. He said search efforts were slow because of the fragility of rubble.
“It has to be done very carefully,” he said. And “time is against us.”
At one site, reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble. Rescuers immediately called for silence so they could listen for others who might be trapped.
The quake sent people throughout the city fleeing from homes and offices, and many people remained in the streets for hours, fearful of returning to the structures.
Alarms blared and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument on the iconic Reforma Avenue.
Electricity and cellphone service was interrupted in many areas and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 quake hit at 1:14 p.m. (11:14 p.m. PDT) and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Puebla Gov. Tony Gali tweeted there were damaged buildings in the city of Cholula, including collapsed church steeples.
Earlier in the day, workplaces across Mexico City held earthquake readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake that killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of the capital.