- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

UPDATED:

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A strong earthquake killed at least one man early Thursday as it collapsed homes in Honduras and Belize and sent people running into the streets in their pajamas as far away as Guatemala City.

The magnitude-7.1 quake struck at 3:24 a.m. (0824 GMT) at the relatively shallow depth of 6 miles (10 kilometers), according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado. The epicenter was 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of La Ceiba, Honduras.

“People were running for the door,” said Alfredo Cedeno, an employee at the Gran Hotel Paris in La Ceiba. “You could really feel it and you could see it — the water came out of the pool.”

A man died after his house collapsed in Pineda de la Lima, 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of the capital, Tegicugalpa, according to Carlos Gonzalez, deputy director of Honduras’ Permanent Emergency Commission. A neighbor’s house also collapsed, he said.

“Dozens of workers have been evacuated from factories in San Pedro Sula (in northern Honduras) because the buildings have cracks,” he said. “There are cracks in the roads in several cities.”

Juan Sevilla, a spokesman for Honduras’ firefighters, said wooden homes collapsed in Puerto Cortes, 120 miles (200 kilometers) north of Tegucigalpa, as did a stadium wall in Comayagua, 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the capital.

Osman Hernandez, a spokesman for the mayor of El Progreso, told Radio Satelite there was “serious damage” to Democracy Bridge, a 1957 span across Honduras’ biggest river, the Ulua. He did not provide details of the damage.

Tegucigalpa Mayor Ricardo Alvarez appealed for calm as officials reported electricity, telephones and Internet connections were cut across a large part of Honduras.

“It was an earthquake of great proportions that was felt in almost the entire country,” said Ana Maria Rivera, spokeswoman for the emergency commission.

In Belize, people rushed from their homes as glasses and framed pictures crashed off of shelves. At least five wooden houses on stilts collapsed in three towns and a water tower toppled in the town of Independence, local officials said. Electricity was out all the way to the Mexican border.

“I urge you not to panic, but to remain calm,” National Emergency Minister Melvin Hulse said on the radio. “Your government is monitoring the situation and will be keeping you informed.”

A tsunami watch was discontinued for Honduras, Belize and Guatemala.

Raul Gonzalez, a receptionist at the Gran Hotel Sula in San Pedro Sula, said guests ran into the streets in their pajamas.

“I ran out of the building and kept going for about a block before I looked back and everything had calmed,” he said. “It was really strong. I have never felt anything like that.”

He said the hotel did not suffer damage.

A two-story warehouse caught fire in San Pedro Sula but no injuries were reported, according to firefighter Lt. Col. Daniel Flores.

People ran into the streets as far away as Guatemala City, but firefighter Byron Juarez said a survey of firefighting offices throughout Guatemala revealed no reports of major damage.

The quake occurred in a region where the North American and Caribean plates come together, according to Gonzalo Cruz, head of geophysics at Honduras’ National Autonomous University.

The USGS said a magnitude-4.8 aftershock struck off Honduras about three hours after the quake.

Associated Press writers Juan Carlos Llorca in Guatemala City and Patrick Jones in Belize City contributed to this report.

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