COLIMA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexicans bereaved by a powerful earthquake laid coffins in the streets on Wednesday as rescue teams picked through crumbled houses and the death toll from the disaster rose to 27.
Hundreds of houses collapsed on Tuesday night when the quake rocked a large swathe of central and western Mexico. The worst damage was in Colima, a colonial city of 200,000 people just inland from the Pacific coast.
President Vicente Fox toured the worst-hit areas in Colima by helicopter and on foot and promised rapid aid for victims including loans for people with damaged businesses and quick restoration of power and water services.
"Please, I ask you, spread the word, that we will support everyone, that no one should worry," Fox said during his tour, which included a visit to a wake for two of the dead.
He declared an emergency in the worst-hit areas and armed soldiers were deployed to clear up the wreckage while rescuers took victims and survivors out from the rubble on stretchers.
"According to reports from local mayors the number of victims has risen to 25," Colima state Interior Secretary Victorico Rodriguez told Reuters on Wednesday evening.
Two more were killed In neighboring Jalisco state. An 85-year-old woman was killed when a wall fell on her and an 18-month-old girl died when part of her home collapsed.
Colima families whose homes were demolished by the quake had nowhere to put their dead, so they placed the coffins on tables in the street and set up makeshift altars with photographs of the victims.
"My mother was crushed to death, trapped. My brother and some other people pulled her out," said one woman, Carlota Rodriguez, as neighbors passed by the 83-year-old woman's coffin in the street, paying their last respects.
But Mexico City, which was hit by a massive earthquake that killed at least 10,000 people in 1985, escaped virtually unscathed, although buildings rocked violently and frightened people ran into the streets.
Colima Gov. Fernando Moreno said at least 140 people were injured in his state, which is largely devoted to farming.
"They were crushed or they suffocated when walls and houses collapsed on top of them," Moreno said. He said 10,000 homes had been damaged and 800 totally destroyed.
Many dazed residents of Colima, the state capital, slept in the open on Tuesday night and milled around on Wednesday, too scared of after-shocks to go back into their homes.
BURIED IN RUBBLE
"They pulled me out from the rubble," said Virginia Lomeli, a 57-year-old woman who suffered bruises to the face and legs when her home collapsed in Colima's city center.
"The house fell on me, my son got me out. He was shouting at me and pulling me out," she said, her hands shaking.
Around her, cars were buried in rubble and lampposts and trees were flattened. Amid the devastation, local residents stood in small groups, some weeping, others stunned.
Most of the injured suffered broken bones.
The Seismological Service at Mexico City's UNAM University said the quake measured 7.6, while the U.S. Geological Survey put its magnitude at 7.8. The epicenter was near the beach resort of Manzanillo but there was little damage there.
At least two aftershocks, measuring 5.8 and 5.3 and capable of causing damage, struck the same state on Wednesday. The epicenter was also off the coast of Colima.
The first quake caused panic in Mexico City, 310 miles (500 km) to the east, where power was briefly cut and some buildings cracked, sending people running into the streets.
"I was putting my son to bed when everything started to move. We ran out with all our neighbors. I was just thinking of '85, the earthquake of '85," said Beatriz Reyes, a resident of the central Mexico City neighborhood of La Roma, which was one of the hardest hit 18 years ago.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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