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7.4 quake shakes Mexico, damaging some 800 homes

A woman comforts her children outside a school in Mexico City after the earthquake hit Tuesday. Though the epicenter was far away, the quake caused tall buildings to sway in the capital.

Associated Press

A woman comforts her children outside a school in Mexico City after the earthquake hit Tuesday. Though the epicenter was far away, the quake caused tall buildings to sway in the capital.

MEXICO CITY — A strong 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico on Tuesday, damaging some 800 homes near the epicenter and swaying tall buildings and spreading fear and panic hundreds of miles away in the capital of Mexico City.

One of the country's strongest quakes since the deadly 1985 temblor that killed thousands in Mexico City, Tuesday's earthquake hit hardest in the border area of southern Oaxaca and Guerrero states, where Guerrero officials confirmed that hundreds of homes were damaged and another 60 collapsed.

Hours after the shaking at noon local time, there were no reports of death or serious injury, even after a less powerful, magnitude-5.1 aftershock was felt in the capital and several other aftershocks near the epicenter in a mountainous rural region.

"It was very strong, very substantial," said Campos Benitez, hospital director in Ometepec, about 15 miles from the epicenter.

In Mexico City, frightened workers and residents poured into the streets. Groups of women hugged and cried at the Angel of Independence monument, where hundreds of people evacuated from office buildings. Others typed ferociously on their BlackBerrys.

Telephone service was down in the city and some neighborhoods were without power, according to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

A pedestrian bridge collapsed on an empty transit bus. The airport closed for a time but officials said there was no runway damage and they resumed operations.

Mexico City, built on a lakebed, was badly damaged in 1985 when an 8.1 earthquake killed at least 10,000 people. In past years, Guerrero has suffered several severe earthquakes.

In Huajuapan, Guerrero, near the epicenter, hotel manager Marco Antonio Estrada reported shaken-up guests but no major damage. He said it was longest and strongest quake he ever felt. People ran out of their homes and cars.

"It was very strong, but we didn't see anything fall," said Irma Ortiz, who runs a guesthouse in Oaxaca.

President Barack Obama's oldest daughter, Malia, was reported and safe while on vacation with a school group in Oaxaca.

The U.S. Geological Survey set the preliminary magnitude of the first quake at 7.4 and said the epicenter was 11 miles underground. The survey set the aftershock at 5.1.

Seismologists and civil protection officials said there didn't appear to be heavy damage or casualties because of where and how the earthquake hit.

7.4 quake shakes Mexico, damaging some 800 homes 03/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 11:52pm]

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