A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 138 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.
Scores of buildings collapsed into mounds of rubble or were severely damaged in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby states. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings collapsed at 44 places in the capital alone.
The quake is the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 quake on the same date killed thousands. It came less than two weeks after another powerful quake left 90 dead in the country's south.
Mancera said at least 30 had died in Mexico City, and officials in Morelos, just to the south, said 54 had died there.
At least 26 others died in Puebla state, according to state disaster prevention chief Carlos Valdes.
Gov. Alfredo del Mazo said at least nine had died in the State of Mexico, which also borders the capital.
Mancera said that 50 to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens and emergency workers.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 hit at 1:14 pm (2:15 pm EDT) and it was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.
The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent people throughout the city fleeing from homes and offices, and many people remained in the streets for hours, fearful of returning to the structures.
Electricity and cellphone service was interrupted in many areas and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.
Mexico City's international airport suspended operations and was checking facilities for any damage.
Alarms blared and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument on the iconic Reforma Avenue.
Earlier in the day workplaces across the city held readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake, which killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of Mexico City.
The new quake appears to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept 7 off Mexico's southern coast and which also was felt strongly in the capital.
Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.
Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, 26, was one many who spontaneously participated in rescue efforts.
She wore a paper face mask and her hands were still dusty from having joined a rescue brigade to clear rubble from a building that fell in a cloud of dust before her eyes, about 15 minutes after the quake.
Morales said she was in a taxi when the quake struck, and she out and sat on a sidewalk to try to recover from the scare. Then, just a few yards away, the three-story building collapsed.
Gala Dluzhynska was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on the trendy Alvaro Obregon street when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.
She said she fell in the stairs and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up.
"There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks," she said.
They reached the bottom only to find it barred. A security guard finally came and unlocked it.