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Mexico earthquake: Death toll rises to at least 61 people

The death toll from one of the most powerful earthquakes recorded in Mexico has risen to at least 61 people.

The quake that hit minutes before on midnight local time on Thursday struck off the country's southern coast, toppling hundreds of buildings and sending panicked people fleeing into the streets in the middle of the night. 

It was strong enough to cause buildings to sway violently in the capital Mexico City more than 650 miles away.

The furious shaking created a second national emergency for Mexican agencies already bracing for Hurricane Katia on the other side of the country.

Intense rains were reported in the Gulf state of Veracruz, where the storm was expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday as a category two storm that could bring life-threatening floods.

President Enrique Pena Nieto said 61 people were killed - 45 in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco - and declared three days of national mourning.

The worst-hit city was Juchitan, on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where 36 quake victims died.

About half of Juchitan's city hall collapsed in a pile of rubble and streets were littered with the debris of ruined houses.

A hospital also collapsed, Mr Pena Nieto said after touring the city and meeting residents.

The patients were relocated to other facilities.

The president said authorities were working to re-establish the supply of water and food and provide medical attention to those who needed it.

He vowed the government would help people rebuild and called for people to come together.

"The power of this earthquake was devastating, but we are certain that the power of unity, the power of solidarity and the power of shared responsibility will be greater," he said.

Mexico City escaped major damage, but the quake terrified sleeping residents, many of whom still remember the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city.

Families were jerked awake by the grating howl of the capital's seismic alarm.

Some shouted as they dashed out of rocking apartment buildings and even the iconic Angel of Independence Monument swayed as the quake's waves rolled through the city's soft soil.

Elsewhere, the extent of destruction was still emerging.

Hundreds of buildings collapsed or were damaged, power was cut at least briefly to more than 1.8 million people and authorities closed schools on Friday in at least 11 states to check them for safety.

The Interior Department said 428 homes were destroyed and 1,700 were damaged in cities and towns in Chiapas.

"Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed," said Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, who warned that inclement weather threatened to bring more down.

"Right now it is raining very hard in Tonala and with the rains it gets much more complicated because the homes were left very weak, with cracks."

The earthquake's impact was blunted by the fact that it was centred 100 miles offshore.

It hit off Chiapas' Pacific coast, near the Guatemalan border, with a magnitude of 8.1 - equal to Mexico's strongest quake of the past century.

It was slightly stronger than the 1985 quake, the US Geological Survey said.

The epicentre was in a seismic hotspot in the Pacific where one tectonic plate dives under another.

These subduction zones are responsible for producing some of the biggest quakes in history, including the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the 2004 Sumatra quake that spawned a deadly tsunami.

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