More than 200 Dead After 7.1-Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Central Mexico

A 7.1-magnitue earthquake struck near Mexico City on Sept. 19, 2017.
A 7.1-magnitue earthquake struck near Mexico City on Sept. 19, 2017. (Image credit: USGS)

A magnitude-7.1 earthquake that struck central Mexico yesterday (Sept. 20) left more than 200 people dead, with residents working through the night searching for survivors in piles of rubble from collapsed buildings, according to news reports.

The earthquake came not even two weeks after another powerful 8.1-magnitude temblor hit the country. Both earthquakes occurred amidst a major hurricane swirling in the Atlantic, though the two phenomena have nothing to do with one another. (The 8.1-magnitude earthquake happened while Hurricane Irma was churning toward Florida; currently, Hurricane Maria has its sights set on Puerto Rico.)

Yesterday's earthquake originated about 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) east-northeast of the city of Raboso and 34 miles (55 km) south-southwest of Puebla, Mexico, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The earthquake struck at 18:14:39 UTC (2:14 p.m. ET) on Sept. 19, cracking the facades of structures, and causing some buildings to sway and others to collapse, the Washington Post reported.

Mexico is no stranger to earthquakes, as the country sits atop three of Earth's large tectonic plates. The quake happened near the boundary between two of those plates: the Cocos and North America plates, the USGS said. At this boundary, the two plates creep toward each other at a rate of 76 millimeters per year. Over time, the Cocos plate dives beneath the North American slab; this so-called subduction is happening beneath Central America at the Middle American Trench, nearly 190 miles (300 km) southwest of where today's earthquake struck. 

Over the past 100 years, 19 powerful earthquakes — those of magnitude 6.5 or greater — have hit within 155 miles (250 km) of the spot where today's quake originated, the USGS reported. 

Thirty-two years ago to the day, on Sept. 19, 1985, a magnitude-8.0 earthquake killed more than 9,500 people in Mexico City, the USGS said. The Michoacan earthquake, as it's called, originated about 280 miles (450 km) from yesterday's 7.1-magnitude temblor.

Editor's Note: This story will be updated as more information becomes available. 

Original article on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.