(AP, ABC7) - A strong 7.4-magnitude earthquake hit southern Mexico on Tuesday, damaging some 800 homes near the epicenter and swaying tall buildings and spreading fear and panic hundreds of miles away in the capital of Mexico City.
One of the strongest to shake Mexico since the deadly 1985 temblor that killed thousands in Mexico City, Tuesday's earthquake hit hardest in border area of southern Oaxaca and Guerrero states, where Guerrero official confirmed that some 800 homes had been damaged, with another 60 having collapsed.
Hours after the shaking at noon local time, there were still no reports of death or serious injury, even after a less powerful, magnitude-5.1 aftershock was felt in the capital and several other aftershocks near the epicenter in a mountainous rural region.
"It was very strong, very substantial," said Campos Benitez, hospital director in Ometepec, about 15 miles from the epicenter.
Locals seek answers
La Placido Restaurant in Hyattsville is in a part of Prince George's County with a lot of immigrants from Mexico. Many have been trying to see if their relatives are okay.
Angelica Lopez of Bladensburg couldn't get through to her relatives for hours but eventually found out they were okay.
"They tried to talk, they tried to communicate - but it's very hard," Lopez says.
At the Mexican Embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue, Ricardo Alday says they've been getting a ton of calls from D.C. Area Mexican-Americans who couldn't reach loved ones.
"The friends, the family, the relatives in Mexico,” Alday says. “We just try to provide them with as much comfort as we can."
Embassy officials say this region has more several hundred thousand Mexican-Americans. Although many have had trouble contacting relatives, many are also relieved, realizing the damage isn't nearly as bad as it could have been for a 7.4 magnitude quake.
Officials assess damage
Guerrero Gov. Angel Aguirre, who is from Ometepec, was headed there to survey the damage and ordered emergency crews and civil protection to the area to help with the damage.
The state did not say how many were displaced. In Mexico City, frightened workers and residents poured into the streets of the capital.
Telephone service was down in the city and throughout the area where the quake was felt and some neighborhoods were without power, according to Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who set up a hotline for people to report damage.
A pedestrian bridge collapsed on an empty transit bus. About 40 passengers were stranded for a short time on the Mexico City airport air train, but later released.
The airport closed for a time but officials said there was no runway damage and they resumed operations. Samantha Rodriguez, a 37-year old environmental consultant, was evacuated from the 11th floor on the Angel Tower office building.
"I thought it was going to pass rapidly but the walls began to thunder and we decided to get out," she said. Mexico City, built on a lakebed, was badly damaged in 1985 when an 8.0 earthquake killed at least 10,000 people.
In past years, Guerrero has suffered several severe earthquakes, including a 7.9 in 1957 which killed an estimated 68 people, and a 7.4 in 1995 which left three dead.
Tuesday's quake was the strongest shaking felt in the capital since a magnitude-6.5 earthquake struck also in Guerrero in December. Officials said at least three people died in Guerrero, but there were no reports of widespread damage.
A magnitude-8.0 quake near Manzanillo on Mexico's central Pacific coast killed 51 people in 1995 and a magintude-7.5 quake killed at least 20 people in the southern state of Oaxaca in 1999.
In Huajuapan, Guerrero, near the epicenter, hotel manager Marco Antonio Estrada also reported shaken-up guests but no major damage. He said it was longest and strongest he ever felt.
People ran out of their homes and cars. "It was very strong, but we didn't see anything fall," said Irma Ortiz, who runs a guesthouse in Oaxaca.
She said their telephones are down, and that the quake shook them side-to-side.
The U.S. Geological Survey set the preliminary magnitude of the first quake at 7.4 and said the epicenter was 11 miles underground. The survey set the aftershock at 5.1. U.S. President Barack Obama's oldest daughter, Malia, was reported and safe while on vacation with a school group in Oaxaca.
Groups of women hugged and cried at Mexico City's Angel of Independence monument, where hundreds of people evacuated from office buildings said they never had felt such a strong earthquake.
Others typed ferociously on their Blackberries. Mexico City's airport was closed for a short time but there was no damage to runways and operations were returning to normal.
In Oaxaca, Sylvia Valencia was teaching Spanish to five adult students at the Vinigulaza language school when the earthquake hit. "Some of us sat down, others ran out," she said. "It was hard, it was strong and it was long."
After the shaking stopped, however, she said they found no damage, not in their own classrooms, nor outside in the historical center of the city, so they went back to class.
Celia Galicia, who works at the U.S. consular office in Oaxaca, had just flown in from Mexico City when it hit. She said there was panic in the airport, and a dash for the doors.
But she said that she saw no damage at the airport and no one was hurt. She says one building in downtown Oaxaca appears to be damaged and has been evacuated.
She added that they've had two strong aftershocks, and that in downtown Oaxaca most people are out on the street at this point. "It started shaking badly," she said.
Mexico City mayor takes to Twitter
The closest major town to the epicenter is listed as Ometepec, about 15 miles west of the epicenter. The green arrow in the map above denotes the earthquake's epicenter.
The USGS says the quake struck at a depth of about 11 miles. The USGS reports that a magnitude 5.1 aftershock struck a very short distance away from the epicenter about 30 minutes after the main quake.
Shortly after the quake struck, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebard took to Twitter, saying "tenemos sismo," or "we have an earthquake." He later tweeted that he saw no visible damage while flying above the city in a helicopter.
— Marcelo Ebrard (@m_ebrard) March 20, 2012
Ebard, who has been active on Twitter throughout the entire situation, also said that the city's strategic services, including the water system and the city's subway were in working order. Buildings are also being evacuated as a precaution.
"I have problems with pressure, I felt I was going to faint," Rosa Maria Lopez Velazquez, 62, told the Associated Press outside a mall in Mexico City.
There were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries. Telephone service was down in the city and throughout the area where the quake was felt.