Mexico City Buildings Shake in Strongest Earthquake Since 2003

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- Buildings in Mexico City shook for more than a minute after the country’s strongest earthquake since 2003 struck 108 miles east of Acapulco. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties from the 7.4-magnitude earthquake, though office workers as a precaution evacuated high-rise buildings in Mexico City and power was knocked out in several of the capital’s neighborhoods. Crayton Harrison talks with Mark Crumpton about the quake on Bloomberg Television's "Bottom Line." (Source: Bloomberg)

Buildings in Mexico City swayed, sending frightened residents into the streets of the capital, after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck near Acapulco.

President Felipe Calderon, in a message posted on Twitter, said no major damage had been detected and there were no reports of casualties. The quake, which was originally estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to have a 7.9 magnitude, struck 200 miles southeast of the capital in Oaxaca state.

Jesus Ramos said the quake was the worst he felt since he began working at Mexico City’s stock exchange in 2006.

“It felt horrible,” Ramos, 31, said outside of the bourse, one of many buildings on the busy Paseo Reforma thoroughfare that were evacuated within minutes of the quake. “There have been others, but not this strong.”

Power was knocked out and windows shattered in several of the capital’s neighborhoods, and a pedestrian bridge collapsed on a vehicle, injuring one person, El Universal newspaper reported. A 5.1-magnitude aftershock was felt 30 minutes after the original temblor and a magnitude 5.0 quake hit Guerrero state at 8:54 p.m. local time yesterday, the USGS said on its website.

The peso briefly extended declines, then recovered, after the quake struck.

Obama’s Daughter

Petroleos Mexicanos, Mexico’s state-owned oil company, had no reports of damage and spokeswoman Fatima Campos said its Salina Cruz refinery, the country’s biggest, is operating normally. Grupo Mexico SAB (GMEXICOB), the world’s fifth-largest copper producer, said the temblor hasn’t affected its mines and refineries.

President Barack Obama’s oldest daughter, Malia, is safe and was never in danger during the long quake, said Kristina Schake, a spokesperson for First Lady Michelle Obama. Malia, 13, is on vacation with a school group in Oaxaca.

Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said on his Twitter account that he detected no damage in a helicopter flyover and that the international airport, subway and water systems were all functioning normally.

Some houses collapsed and around 500 were damaged along the Pacific Ocean coastline in southern Guerrero state near the quake’s center, state Governor Angel Aguirre said in an interview broadcast on Milenio TV. No deaths or injuries have been reported nor has any damage been detected in the resort city of Acapulco, he added.

Jell-O Effect

The quake was the biggest since a 7.6 magnitude temblor struck offshore of Colima state in 2003 and caused 29 deaths, according to USGS data. In 1985, an 8.0-magnitude quake flattened hundreds of buildings in the capital, leaving more than 9,000 people dead.

Photographer: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

People run to safety on the streets of Mexico City after a strong quake hit Mexico on March 20, 2012. Close

People run to safety on the streets of Mexico City after a strong quake hit Mexico on March 20, 2012.

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Photographer: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

People run to safety on the streets of Mexico City after a strong quake hit Mexico on March 20, 2012.

Mexico City’s location on an ancient lakebed may have magnified the quake’s vibration, though the epicenter’s distance from the capital and improvements in building techniques since the 1985 tragedy should limit damage, said John Bellini, a geophysicist at the USGS. More extensive damage may be reported near the epicenter, he said.

“The lakebed kind of acts like a bowl, a Jell-o so to speak,” Bellini said in a phone interview from Golden, Colorado. “Historically very large earthquakes in the coastal areas have caused damage in Mexico City but we’re not seeing that with this one.”

Yesterdays’s quake was felt in five states, as well as neighboring Guatemala. As far south as Chile authorities were on the lookout for possible tsunami.

“I felt dizzy,” said Christopher Hernandez, who works at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. “I was more surprised than scared.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Carlos Manuel Rodriguez in Mexico City at carlosmr@bloomberg.net; Nacha Cattan in Mexico City at ncattan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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