FEBRUARY 16, 2018, BY ERIKA MARTIN AND LU PARKER
A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck along the west coast of Mexico Friday afternoon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and two people died in a crash involving a helicopter that was surveying the damage, Mexican government officials told CNN.
The epicenter of the powerful quake was reported in the Oaxacan town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, about 220 miles south of Mexico City and 68 miles southwest of the state capital, officials said.
Two people on the ground were killed when a military helicopter surveying the damage crashed, the country’s interior ministry told CNN. But President Enrique Peña Nieto tweeted that “several” people on the ground were killed.
Secretary of the Interior Alfonso Navarrete Prida and Alejandro Murat Hinojosa, governor of Oaxaca, both survived the crash with slight “contusions,” government officials tweeted.
The conditions of other people injured in the crash was still being assessed, according to that tweet.
The earthquake’s magnitude had preliminarily been reported as 7.5.
The shaking began around 5:40 p.m. local time, or 3:40 p.m. PT. It originated at a depth of around 15 miles, USGS said.
Less than an hour later, a 5.8-magnitude aftershock hit Oaxaca with an epicenter around 14 miles north of the first.
Both temblors were powerful enough to sway buildings in Mexico City, where earthquake-weary residents flooded into the streets, the Associated Press reported. Videos posted to social media show ceiling lamps swaying and people sharing relieved embraces after evacuating.
There were no immediate reports of fatalities, and it was unclear how much destruction the quakes wrought.
Only “material damages” had been reported near the epicenters in Oaxaca, and shelters were set up to take in those fleeing their homes, state Civil Protection officials said on Twitter. Mexico’s Civil Protection chief Luis Felipe Puente said the shaking was not expected to lead to a tsunami.
Local television reports in Oaxaca showed a hotel that had partially collapsed and other structures with roof damage and split walls, according to the Los Angles Times.
The Red Cross of Mexico City tweeted that it was treating people in the capital suffering nervous breakdowns in the quake’s aftermath, but the organization did not report any bodily injuries.
Mercedes Rojas Huerta, 57, told the AP she was sitting on a bench outside her Mexico City home when the tremor began and she was too scared to go back inside.
“It was awful,” Huerta said. “It started to shake; the cars were going here and there. What do I do?”
The earthquakes come five months after a 7.1-magnitude temblor in central Mexico ultimately killed hundreds of people on Sept. 19. The epicenter of that quake was about 80 miles away from Mexico City.
The major quakes have come amid a flurry of seismic activity in the country, largely along the Oaxacan coast, where pressure is being created by one tectonic plate that is sliding beneath another.
On the same day as the devastation in Mexico City last year, a smaller quake shook the same Oaxacan town where at least 90 people were killed by a 8.1-magnitude earthquake less than two weeks before, on Sept. 7. It was one of more than 4,000 smaller quakes the would closely follow the tragic 8.1-magnitude temblor.
As of Friday, six quakes with a magnitude greater than 4 have jolted the region this year, according to USGS. Two days ago, on Wednesday, a 4.3-magnitude quake hit less than 30 miles north of the epicenter for Friday’s temblor.