Major 8.4-magnitude earthquake strikes off southern Mexico

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A major earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 8.4 has struck off the Pacific coast of southern Mexico, with shaking felt across parts of Central America, seismologists and residents say. A tsunami alert has been issued for several countries.

The earthquake, which struck at 10:49 p.m. local time on Thursday, was centered about 109 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of El Palmarcito, or 123 kilometers (77 miles) southwest of Pijijiapan. It struck at a depth of 33 kilometers (21 miles), making it a shallow earthquake.

Mexico’s National Seismological Service put the preliminary magnitude of the earthquake at 8.4, up from an initial estimate of 8.0. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center puts the magnitude at 8.2 and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) puts the magnitude at 8.1.

There were initial reports of damage in the region near the epicenter but the extent was not immediately clear. Shaking from the earthquake was felt across the region, as far away as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Shaking was also felt in Mexico City, where people fled from their buildings, according to witnesses. Luis Felipe Puente, the national coordinator of the Civil Protection agency, said parts of the capital were without power after the earthquake.

Soon after the earthquake, a tsunami alert was issued for the Pacific coast of Mexico, which could experience tsunami waves reaching more than 3 meters (9.8 feet) above the tide level, according to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

Tsunami waves reaching 0.7 meter (2.3 feet) above the tide level were recorded by sea level gauges near the resort of Huatulco in Oaxaca state. It was not immediately known whether the tsunami had caused any damage.

A tsunami alert was also issued for the Cook Islands, Ecuador, French Polynesia, Guatemala, and Kiribati. Those places could potentially experience tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meter (1 to 3.3 feet) above the tide level, the center said.

Other countries and areas included in the alert could experience tsunami waves of less than 0.3 meter (1 feet) above the tide level: Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Hawaii, Honduras, Jarvis Island, Nicaragua, the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Palmyra Island, Panama, and Peru.

Computer models from the USGS estimated that as many as 47 million people may have felt the earthquake, including more than 1 million people who could have experienced “very strong” to “severe” shaking.

Nearly half an hour after the earthquake, at 11:17 p.m., the same region was struck by an aftershock measuring 6.1, according to the National Seismological Service. Another aftershock – measuring 5.7 – struck at 11:01 p.m., according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The analysis noted that the population in the region resides in structures that are a mix of vulnerable and earthquake-resistant construction. “Extensive damage is probable and the disaster is likely widespread,” the USGS estimated, adding that significant casualties were possible.

Mexico sits on the so-called ‘Pacific Ring of Fire’, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin which is prone to frequent and large earthquakes.

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