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Mexico City residents to mega-quakes: We can handle it

March 21, 2012 |  2:53 pm

Mexico city residents earthquake

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- It's true that sometimes Mexico City can look and feel like the Hollywood set for a movie about the apocalypse. On Tuesday, riding through another big quake, it proved that it's a city that can take a punch.

And what a punch it was.

Tuesday's big earthquake was reported as the largest recorded in Mexico since the devastating 1985 earthquake, which left more than 10,000 people dead. It was a one-minute temblor that made the iconic Angel of Independence monument sway as if drunk and sent crisply dressed office workers rushing into the streets.

Yet remarkably, not a life was lost in the event.

There were only 11 recorded injuries nationwide, authorities said Tuesday night. Some structural damage was reported in the city and in the southern states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, nearer the epicenter. But otherwise, there were no major collapses.

The most dramatic images came from the northern Mexico City borough of Azcapotzalco, where a  concrete footbridge fell on a microbus and crushed its midsection.

In a stroke of what some here call "chilango good luck," referring to a common nickname for Mexico City residents, the bus was empty of passengers. The driver, Raul Hernandez, escaped with only a bloody cut across his nose.

The first official word about the shaking came from Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who calmly announced on Twitter just after 12:02 p.m., when the quake hit: "Tenemos sismo." ("We have an earthquake.")

At that moment, the city's response plan went into effect. As Tracy Wilkinson reported in The Times, evacuations in a metropolitan region of 20 million were mostly orderly and organized, reflecting a city that has learned its lessons since 1985. Mexico has significantly improved building codes and their enforcement since that tragedy.

On Wednesday morning, headlines on newspapers' front pages used the phrase "Mexico City resists" to proudly report that the quake left no major damage.

"A lot of fright, a lot of panic, but everything's OK," President Felipe Calderon said.

Mexico's central and southern regions get large quakes about once or twice a year, making an occasional heavy rattling -- such as the 6.5 temblor that hit in December -- a somewhat expected feature of life here. But Tuesday's quake was bigger than the usual big ones.

The U.S. Geological Survey settled on a magnitude of 7.4 for the quake, while Mexico's National Seismological Service, which uses a different combination of scales, said it was a 7.8.

Whatever the digits, Mexico's ability to absorb a quake that size with limited damage and zero loss of life left social-media networks in Mexico with some room to have fun. 

Even as a string of aftershocks kept rattling nerves on the spring equinox, some asked: Were the Maya gods preparing Mexico for the winter solstice of 2012, the "end of the world"?

"Pardon the bother, we are conducting tests, Sincerely, the Maya," one jokey tweet said.

In the southern state of Chiapas, residents might have thought that a practical joke was underway when the quake hit.

At precisely noon, emergency sirens began wailing across the state for an earthquake "mega-drill" that had been planned far in advance by the local government. Two minutes later, the real quake hit.

Thousands of emergency workers were already in position. There were no reports of injuries, but at least one report emerged of someone in a vehicle in the pueblo of Galecio Narcia announcing through a megaphone that it was the "end of the world."

For the record, 3:17 p.m. March 21: A previous version of this post referred to chilango as good luck. Chilango is used as a modifier in the reference to a nickname for Mexico City residents.

ALSO:

Strong Mexico quake sends people fleeing into streets

Few injuries despite strength of Mexico earthquake

The 1985 Mexico City earthquake, remembered

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: People make calls in Mexico City's Roma neighborhood after a strong quake hit Tuesday. Credit: Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images

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