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Fatal earthquake hits Guatemala

At least 48 people are killed after 7.4 magnitude quake rocks the capital of South American country.
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2012 07:33
President Otto Perez Molina said the country had been placed on its highest level of disaster alert [Reuters]

At least 48 people have been killed after a strong earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Guatemala, rocking the capital and shaking buildings as far away as Mexico City and El Salvador.

Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina said on Wednesday that as many as 100 people were unaccounted for, based on reports from relatives, after the 7.4 magnitude earthquake.

"These are preliminary figures and we don't have them confirmed," Perez said. "Our priority is to focus on lives, rescuing people and treating the wounded."

The quake, about 32km deep, was centred about 24km off the coastal town of Champerico and about 160km southwest of Guatemala City.

People fled buildings in Guatemala City, in Mexico City and in the capital of the Mexican state of Chiapas, across the border from Guatemala.

A reporter in San Marcos, a mountainous, mostly rural region about 128km north of the epicentre, told local radio station Emisoras Unidas that houses had collapsed onto residents and smashed televisions.

Other appliances had been scattered into the streets of the main town, the reporter said.

The local fire department said on its Twitter account that a school had collapsed and eight injured people had been taken to a nearby hospital.

Local radio reported widespread power outages and cuts in telephone service. 

High alert

President Perez said in a radio interview that the country of 14 million had been placed on its highest level of disaster alert and he asked people to evacuate tall buildings as an emergency measure.

The country's minister of communications and infrastructure told Emisoras Unidas that landslides had cut off several highways in the west of the country.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said a small tsunami was registered on Guatemala's coast, adding that there was a risk of localised damage within a 100km radius.

A resident who identified herself as Mrs Baglia told the radio station from the small town of San Pedro Sacatepequez, near San Marcos, that people had fled into the streets after being told of a tsunami alert.

"People are in distress and no one can calm down,'' she said.

A spokesman for El Salvador's Red Cross branch told the Associated Press news agency that the quake had been felt throughout the country, sending people fleeing their homes in the capital, but there had been no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage.

The mayor of Mexico City said no serious damage or injuries had been reported in the city, although many people had fled their offices and homes during the quake.

It was the biggest earthquake in Guatemala since a 7.5-magnitude temblor caused widespread death and destruction in the Central American country on February 4, 1976.

More than 23,000 people were killed and thousands more were injured in that earlier temblor, about 100 miles northwest of Guatemala City

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