Earthquake rocks Mexico on ‘cursed’ anniversary

Earthquake hits western Mexico on the anniversary of two previous quakes that left the country reeling in 1985 and 2017.

People attending an event to honor the children who died in the Enrique Rebsamen school during an earthquake in 2017, react as another earthquake is felt in Mexico City
People react as an earthquake is felt in Mexico City on September 19, but the mayor says there were no immediate reports of damage in the capital [Luis Cortes/Reuters]

A powerful magnitude 7.6 earthquake has struck western Mexico, killing at least one person and causing panic in the country’s capital on the anniversary of two previous quakes.

The earthquake hit shortly after 1pm local time (16:00 GMT) on Monday and was centred in the border area between the states of Michoacan and Colima at a depth of about 15km (9 miles), according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

The Mexican government said one person was killed in the Pacific port of Manzanillo when a department store roof collapsed on them, while regional officials reported damage to several hospitals in Michoacan, adding that one person was injured by falling glass at one of the hospitals.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said there were no immediate reports of damage in the capital after the earthquake, which rumbled through Mexico on the same day that major quakes battered the country in 1985 and 2017.

Reporting from Mexico City, Al Jazeera’s John Holman said many in Mexico viewed the timing of Monday’s quake as “really bizarre”.

“It’s happened exactly on the anniversary – the 19th of September – as two other major earthquakes in Mexico,” Holman said. “Those last two earthquakes really wreaked havoc, especially here in the capital.”

“It’s this date, there’s something about the 19th,” said Ernesto Lanzetta, a business owner in the Cuauhtemoc borough of the city. “The 19th is a day to be feared.”

The earthquake on September 19, 2017, killed more than 350 people, while the other on the same date in 1985 killed thousands.

“It seems like a curse,” Isa Montes, a 34-year-old graphic designer, said of the quake’s timing as helicopters flew overhead, surveying the city.

Many Mexicans reacted to the latest quake by posting an array of memes online.

There was one of a bird reading a book titled How to Skip from September 18 to September 20, while another, mimicking an announcement by the Mexican government, invites outsiders to “Visit Mexico” and “on every September 19, come live the experience of a real temblor”.

The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), one of the country’s most prestigious institutions, said there was no scientific explanation for three major quakes on the same day and attributed it to pure coincidence.

Drill turns to reality

On Monday, Mexico City’s early warning earthquake alarms rang out less than an hour after the capital held emergency drills as part of events to mark the previous two disasters.

“It felt terrible. We went down as soon as we felt it, when the alarm sounded,” Karina Suarez, 37, said after evacuating the building where she lives in the capital.

Power was knocked out in parts of the central Roma area of Mexico City, some 400km (250 miles) from the epicentre.

Residents in Mexico City after the earthquake
People at an event honouring victims of the 2017 earthquake react as another quake was felt in Mexico City on September 19 [Luis Cortes/Reuters]

Residents cradling pets stood on the street, while tourists visiting a market with a guide were visibly confused and upset. Traffic lights stopped working, and people clutched their phones, sending text messages or waiting for calls to get through.

“I thought I would have a heart attack,” said Gabriela Ramirez, 58, one of the many residents across the city who rushed out into the streets.

In Coalcoman, Michoacan – near the epicentre – pictures seen by the Reuters news agency showed shingles knocked off homes and building walls cracked by the force of the quake.

The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued warnings for sections of Mexico’s west coast, saying hazardous waves were possible within 300km (186 miles) of the quake’s epicentre.

Mexico’s National Civil Defense agency did not put out a similar warning, saying it does not expect to see a variation in sea levels.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies