Oaxaca, Mexico — A 7.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern Mexico on Tuesday, killing six people, sending hundreds fleeing from their homes and forcing the closure of a major state-owned oil refinery.
Hundreds of aftershocks were reported in the hours following the initial tremor, which was felt in Mexico City, some 700 kilometers (430 miles) distant from the epicenter in Crucecita, in Oaxaca state.
“We had to leave because there is a risk that the market will collapse. We are hardly selling anything because of the pandemic and now if the market is closed we will have a worse time,” said Juana Martinez, 60, a flower-seller in Oaxaca city.
All the deaths occurred in Oaxaca, with the majority due to the collapse of buildings. A woman died near Crucecita, and five other people died in towns located within 150 kilometers of the epicenter, officials said.
The 7.4 quake struck at a depth of 23 kilometers, the US Geological Survey reported.
An initial tsunami warning was later reversed.
There was no damage reported to “strategic infrastructure” including ports, airports, refineries and hydroelectric plants, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in a video published on social media.
Mexican Oil said its refinery in Salina Cruz in Oaxaca had been shut down as a precaution after a fire broke out at the plant “that was immediately stifled.”
One of the dead from the earthquake was a worker at the refinery, who was killed after falling off a high structure.
Other refineries in the state are operating as normal, Mexican Oil said.
Rescuers were battling to reach a remote area of the rugged state amid reports that 15 workers had become trapped while constructing a highway.
The quake also caused slight damage to four hospitals and a clinic, as well as to churches, markets and other buildings, authorities said.
Six hours after the quake, 447 aftershocks had been recorded across the region, the strongest at a magnitude of 4.6.
The US Pacific Tsunami warning center initially said hazardous waves as high as three meters could strike anywhere within 1,000 kilometers of the quake’s epicenter, affecting the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central and South America.
Quake adding to virus woes
Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum also activated response protocols, adding that two people had been injured. Apart from some building facades falling, she said there had been “no major incidents” reported.
The earthquake was felt in several parts of the capital of 8.8 million people which in 2017 was hit by a 7.1 magnitude quake that left 360 people dead throughout the country.
That same year, 96 people died after an 8.1 magnitude quake struck the south of the country, with Oaxaca the worst affected state.
The quake has hit at a time when Mexico is already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
It has suffered more than 23,000 COVID-19 deaths — the second most in Latin America — and 191,410 cases.
On Tuesday the country recorded its highest number of cases in a 24-hour period, with 6,288 new infections, according to the Ministry of Health.
Medical staff were evacuated from some hospitals in the capital alongside patients, although those suffering from the coronavirus remained isolated inside the buildings, alongside their caretakers.
“All those that are in an area with COVID patients remain inside, only those of us who weren’t there at the time” have come out, said Jaime Gomez, a nurse at a hospital caring for coronavirus patients.
Many of the people that fled into the streets of the capital were not wearing face masks.
“With all the virus problems and now the tremors, and I’ve just lost one child and the other is ill, so imagine (how I’m feeling),” a tearful Maria Teresa Duran, 80, told AFP.