Major earthquake off Mexico coast sparks warning of possible tsunami

People react on a street in downtown Mexico City after an earthquake of magnitude 8.4 struck southern Mexico.
People react on a street in downtown Mexico City after an earthquake of magnitude 8.4 struck southern Mexico.

A magnitude 8.4 earthquake has been reported off the coast of Mexico, with residents told to evacuate and a tsunami warning issued for the region and neighbouring countries.

The quake struck 200km south-west of the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez just after midnight on Thursday local time, and was said to be the strongest earthquake to hit the country since 1985, according to the civil protection agency.

The Pacific tsunami warning centre said hazardous waves could be possible “within the next three hours” for the coasts of Mexico, Guatemala, El Savador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and Ecuador.

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In an updated warning the centre predicted waves over 3m for parts of the Mexican coast, and waves between 0.3 and 1 metre for the Cook Islands, Ecuador, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guatemala and Kiribati.

Initial waves arriving on the coast at the Mexican cities of Salina Cruz, Puerto Madero were around 0.3 metres over tide level.

Waves below 0.3 metres were forecast for other countries in the Pacific, including Colombia, Hawaii, Peru and Panama.

People gather on a street after an earthquake hit Mexico City, Mexico.

The tsunami threat to Hawaii was still under evaluation, said the warning centre.

The New Zealand ministry of civil defence and emergency management said it was assessing the potential for the tsunami to reach that far, which would take around 12 hours.

In Mexico civil protection officials were checking for damage in Chiapas, but the quake was so powerful that it frightened residents in Mexico City more than 1,000 kms (650 miles) away. People fled apartment buildings, often in their pyjamas, and gathered in groups in the street.

Around midnight buildings swayed strongly for more than minute, loosening light fixtures from ceilings.

Helicopters crisscrossed the sky above Mexico City with spotlights. Some neighbourhoods had electricity while others remained in darkness.

The Mexican seismological authority reported a series of magnitude 6 aftershocks.

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