Overnight on Friday, a massive earthquake struck off the southern coast of Mexico, near the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, which is along the Guatemalan border. Clocking in at magnitude 8.1, the earthquake is the strongest to strike the country in a century – felt as far away as the capital of Mexico City, some 650 miles from the epicenter. As of Friday afternoon, the death toll was reported to be 58, which may rise as the damage is assessed in some of the more remote areas affected.

The earthquake was slightly stronger than one that devastated the capital city back in 1985. The Texas Standard’s Joy Diaz experienced that ’85 earthquake firsthand. She’s been in contact with reporters in Mexico, who told her that this time around, the country was more prepared for this kind of seismic event.

“There’s a lot of devastation, but something interesting is that the government was very much ready for this,” Diaz says. “The Air Force is out in full force. Alarms calling people to take refuge and evacuate because of fears of a tsunami were enabled, and people were moved.”

However, the areas nearest the epicenter are some of the more impoverished and remote areas of the country, so the damage is even harder felt there. Some historic buildings were leveled, claiming lives.

But despite this, Diaz says that the destruction seems to be less than it potentially could have been because of preparations, and lessons learned from past quakes. Mexico now has an early warning system that can give people up to a minute to prepare – and while that may not sound like long, in an emergency, seconds count.

“One thing I’ve been hearing from all of the reporters I’ve talked to this morning is they’re saying it worked – training worked,” Diaz says. “People saw what happened in Mexico City in ’85 and as soon as they felt the tremors they got out. And in ’85, when I was 9 years old, we didn’t have that training.”

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto is scheduled to visit the hardest-hit areas later today. The country remains on alert, as aftershocks are still possible and could continue to cause damage to structures weakened by the original tremor.

Post by Alexandra Hart

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