A massive 8.1-magnitude earthquake has struck off the coast of southern Mexico, toppling houses in Chiapas state, causing buildings to sway violently as far away as the country’s distant capital city and triggering a tsunami warning.
The US Geological Survey said the quake struck at 11.49pm local time on Thursday and its epicentre was 102 miles (165km) west of Tapachula in southern Chiapas state, not far from Guatemala. It had a depth of 22 miles (35km).
The US Tsunami Warning System said hazardous tsunami waves were possible on the Pacific coasts of several Central American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama and Honduras, within three hours.
There was no tsunami threat for the US West Coast, but the warning system said waves could reach Mexico and as far as Ecuador.
“The house moved like chewing gum and the light and internet went out momentarily,” said Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, a poor largely indigenous state popular with tourists.
Chiapas Civil Defence said on its Twitter account that its staff were in the streets aiding people and warned residents to prepare for aftershocks. But it made no immediate comment about damage.
The quake was so powerful that frightened residents in Mexico City, more than 650 miles (1,000km) away, fled apartment buildings, often in their pyjamas, and gathered in groups in the street.
Buildings swayed strongly for more than one minute, loosening light fixtures from ceilings.
Helicopters crisscrossed the sky above Mexico City with spotlights. Some neighbourhoods kept electricity while others remained in darkness.
In neighbouring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales spoke on national television to call for calm while emergency crews checked for damage.
Local radio in the Central American country reported one death, but it could not be confirmed.
“We have reports of some damage and the death of one person, even though we still don’t have exact details,” Mr Morales said.
He said the possible death occurred in San Marcos state near the border with Mexico.