The magnitude 8.2 earthquake that ravaged southern Mexico on Thursday was the largest to shake the country in nearly a century.
Like California, Mexico is a seismically active region that has seen smaller quakes that have caused death and destruction. But Thursday’s temblor is a reminder that even larger quakes — while rare — do occur.
Scientists say it’s possible for Southern California to be hit by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake. Such a quake would be far more destructive to the Los Angeles area because the San Andreas fault runs very close to and underneath densely populated areas.
The devastating quakes that hit California over the last century were far smaller than the Thursday temblor, which Mexican authorities set at magnitude 8.2 and the U.S. Geological Survey placed at 8.1. Mexico’s earthquake produced four times more energy than the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a magnitude 7.8, which killed 3,000 people and sparked a fire that left much of the city in ruins.
Southern California’s most recent mega-quake was in 1857, also estimated to be magnitude 7.8, when the area was sparsely populated.
One of the worst hit towns was Juchitán, in Oaxaca, where at least 17 deaths have been reported. The town hall and a number of other buildings were destroyed or badly damaged.
“The situation is Juchitán is critical; this is the most terrible moment in its history,” said Mayor Gloria Sanchez.
President Peña Nieto visited the town on Friday.
The BBC’s Arturo Wallace says the affected region is the poorest and least developed part of Mexico and the full extent of the damage is yet to become clear.
At least one other person was killed in Guatemala, its president has said.
The huge quake struck at 23:50 local time on Thursday (04:50 GMT Friday), shaking buildings and causing panic hundreds of miles away in the capital, Mexico City.