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Death toll rising after earthquake in Mexico


MEXICO CITY - President Vicente Fox declared a state of emergency yesterday in Colima, a coastal state hit overnight by a powerful earthquake that rolled across Central Mexico from the Pacific Ocean, killing at least 25 people and rattling millions in Mexico City.

Red Cross officials reported 22 deaths in Colima, where 166 homes were badly damaged or destroyed, two more deaths in the neighboring state of Jalisco, and one in the state of Michoacan, to the west. Most of the dead lived in adobe buildings, and most were very poor, very old or very young, officials said.

At least 178 injuries were reported, mostly broken bones. Rescue crews continued searching for victims in Colima, about 300 miles west of Mexico City and one of Mexico's smallest states.

The earthquake struck at 8:07 p.m. Tuesday. Reports placed its intensity at a preliminary magnitude of 7.6 to 7.8 and its epicenter about 30 miles out to sea from the port of Manzanillo.

In Colima, "the destruction is like a war zone," said Enrique de Jesus Rivera, a Red Cross official.

Gov. Fernando Moreno Pena said half of the 22 deaths in his state were reported in the capital, also called Colima, about 32 miles northeast of the epicenter. Power outages continued into the morning in the city as rescue crews poked through the rubble of several dozen collapsed residential and office buildings.

The civil defense director in Colima said about 40 percent of the structures in the capital suffered some damage, mostly old adobe homes in the northeast of the city. He said deaths had been registered in the capital and in the outlying villages of Tecoman, Colimatlan, Villa de Alvarez and Zacoalpan.

The National Seismological Service of Mexico recorded the earthquake at 7.6. The U.S. Geological Survey placed its intensity at 7.8, which would make it the second-strongest to have struck Mexico since Sept. 19, 1985.

That morning's earthquake - one of the 20th century's most devastating, measured at a magnitude of 8.1 - killed at least 10,000 people, injured 30,000, caused $5 billion damage and left 100,000 homeless in Mexico City alone.

In the capital, millions felt Tuesday night's earthquake, and many, remembering its deadly predecessor, fled to the streets. Power and telephone service were disrupted in Mexico City and in many other municipalities. But the quake, felt for about 45 seconds, caused little significant harm in the capital beyond racing pulses.

The only large building damaged in Mexico City was, oddly enough, the national Civil Defense headquarters, housing the federal officials leading the rescue effort.

Colima suffered a big earthquake in 1995 that killed 49 people, including 18 who died in the collapse of the eight-story Costa Real hotel in Manzanillo, 15 miles northwest of the epicenter.

In Jalisco, to the north of Colima, Tuesday night's earthquake also took a toll: two reported deaths, a woman of 85 and a 1-year-old girl in the town of Zapotitlan, the state civil defense chief said.

In the state capital, Guadalajara - Mexico's second-largest city with about 6 million residents - at least 40 homes were damaged and 100 people left homeless, state officials said.

At least seven smaller earthquakes have struck Mexico's Pacific Coast in the past 10 days.

The U.S. Geological Service said Tuesday night's quake occurred near the juncture of three tectonic plates, slowly colliding chunks of the Earth's crust: the North American Plate to the northeast, the Rivera Plate to the northwest and the Cocos Plate to the south. This region spawned the 1995 Colima earthquake, the 1985 Mexico City quake and a 1932 quake of magnitude 8.4.

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