Big earthquake rattles Mexico, no major damage

MEXICO CITY,  (Reuters) – A major earthquake struck Mexico yesterday, unleashing panic as it damaged hundreds of buildings and caused homes in the capital to bounce like “trampolines”.

Office workers fled into the street when the 7.4-magnitude quake shook Mexico City for more than a minute. Cell phone lines went down, buildings were evacuated, traffic snarled and the stock exchange had to suspend trading early.

The quake hit hardest in the southwestern state of Guerrero, where around 800 houses were damaged, officials said. The state  governor Angel Aguirre said he had reports of homes being knocked down, though state authorities could not confirm this.

The tremor was one of the strongest to hit the country since the devastating 8.1-magnitude earthquake of 1985, which killed thousands in Mexico City.

Still, no deaths were reported yesterday and there were major disruptions to air travel or to oil installations. But it scared many residents and temporarily cut off electricity to some 2.5 million users in the capital.

Martha Suarez, an Argentine living in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood said she had never known anything like it.

“My TV set fell over, the building felt like it was on a trampoline. This one was like no other I have felt before,” Suarez said, holding her little dog close.

Scores of the houses damaged were in Ometepec, a town close to the epicenter of the quake in Guerrero, the state that is home to the popular Pacific beach resort Acapulco.

In neighboring Oaxaca, 68 mud-brick houses were damaged and at least five people were injured, one of them seriously, in the area around the town of Pinotepa Nacional near the Pacific coast, local emergency services said.

Some buildings in the capital’s trendy district of Condesa were cracked by the earthquake, and residents raced out of buildings with young children and dogs in their arms.

“I swear I never felt one so strong, I thought the building was going to collapse,” said Sebastian Herrera, 42, a businessman from a Mexico City neighborhood hit hard in 1985.

Television images showed part of a bridge collapsed onto a vehicle on the outskirts of Mexico City, but Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said no one was injured and that helicopter flyovers showed there was no sign of major damage in the capital.

President Felipe Calderon also said there were no reports of serious damage, and experts said the impact did not look severe.

Eqecat, a disaster modeling company whose software is used by insurers to predict exposure to natural disasters, estimated insured losses from the quake at less than $100 million.

Still, more than two hours after the quake, some residents of the capital were still too scared to return to their homes, fearing powerful aftershocks.

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