Rescue teams frantically sifted through debris of a flattened schoolhouse in Mexico City Wednesday, in a race to find dozens of children who remain unaccounted for hours after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit.
The powerful quake hit Tuesday afternoon in Chiautla de Tapia, a small town in Puebla state 80 miles south of Mexico City, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The quake collapsed an elementary school and killed 21 children, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said at the Enrique Rebsamen school in southeastern Mexico City.
Four adults died at the school and others are missing. Eleven people were rescued there overnight, Mexican Education Minister Aurelio Nuño Mayer said.
Officials said the death toll was at 217 by Wednesday morning — more than 100 in Mexico City alone. Twelve more people were found dead in the state of Mexico, outside of the capital; 72 died in the state of Morales, 43 in Puebla , three in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.
The Mexican Civil Defense Agency revised the death toll downward from 248 without explanation early Wednesday, but the number of collapsed buildings suggests the count will likely rise.
Rescue efforts are well underway across the quake-prone country, which is still recovering from an 8.1-magnitude earthquake less than two weeks ago. While Tuesday’s earthquake was less severe, it occurred in a more densely populated area of Mexico.
The quake caused extensive damage to central Mexico City buildings. Apartment blocks in the historic districts of El Centro and Roma swayed and cracked, officials said. As night fell Tuesday, it and other cities were without electricity.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has clashed with Pena Nieto over border issues, said in a Twitter message, “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said his state would “offer any support to aid Mexico,” and a spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “the United Nations stands ready to assist.”
Incidentally, the major seismic event happened just hours after an annual earthquake drill in the Mexican capital — which was implemented after a devastating 8.0 quake hit Mexico City on the exact same day, Sept. 19, in 1985. It killed more than 6,000 people.
Mexico was also hit by Hurricane Katia earlier this month, and the Popocateptl volcano, southeast of Mexico City, vented a large cloud of ash on Tuesday.
By Ed Adamczyk