Thursday, January 23, 2003

COLIMA, Mexico The powerful earthquake that ripped through western and central Mexico Tuesday night killed at least 25 persons and injured at least 300, according to estimates yesterday.

And dozens of houses and buildings collapsed and even church bells were knocked from their steeples.

The death toll continued to rise yesterday as yellow-suited emergency crews were shown on television digging through wrecked buildings in Colima, capital of the state of the same name. They used a pneumatic drill to break through concrete slabs and find victims.

“The destruction is like a war zone, with fallen walls and streets blocked by rubble,” Mexican Red Cross official Enrique de Jesus Rivera said in Colima City.

The 7.6-magnitude quake struck at 8:07 p.m. Tuesday and was centered near Colima’s Pacific port of Manzanillo, a tourist center.

Almost all the older adobe homes in downtown Colima lay in ruins, and weeping relatives held a wake through the night outside a collapsed house where a woman died.

Cars lay crushed by piles of bricks, and residents carefully entered destroyed homes to collect their belongings.

In Mexico’s second-largest city, Guadalajara, 100 miles to the north, dozens of homes partially collapsed, and at least 20 persons were injured by falling bricks and beams. Bells at one of the colonial city’s dozens of old churches fell from the bell tower.

In Mexico City, about 300 miles from the epicenter, buildings swayed from the quake. Power and telephone service were briefly knocked out and panicked residents ran into the streets, but officials said there were no reports of deaths or serious damage.

Mexico’s national seismological service put the quake’s magnitude at 7.6, but the U.S. Geological Survey calculated it at 7.8 at a depth of 20.5 miles considered shallow. A magnitude 7 quake can cause widespread, severe damage.

“Because of the size of the earthquake and its shallow depth, USGS is expecting substantial damage,” said spokesman Butch Kinerney.

Adan de la Paz of the Mexican Red Cross said 21 persons had died in Colima state. In neighboring Jalisco state, two persons were killed an 85-year-old woman who was crushed by a wall as she fled her house and a 1-year-old girl who died in the same town, Zapotitlan.

The government declared a state of emergency in Colima, where officials were slowly working to restore electricity and telephone service.

At least 140 persons were injured across the state and “a significant number of homes had been completely destroyed,” said Gov. Fernando Moreno Pena in Colima City.

“We have had over 100 people brought in for treatment, some with fractures and a few with very serious injuries,” said Tomas Castillo, a Red Cross commander in Colima. “We just had a report on someone trapped in rubble, and the rescue team is heading out there.”

Mexicans pulled together as they always have in earthquakes, with neighbors calling in reports of trapped victims and aiding in the rescue efforts.

President Vicente Fox ordered the military to assess damage near the quake’s epicenter, a region that includes remote villages of coastal Jalisco and Colima.

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