Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Magnitude 7.6 Quake Strikes Mexico [UPDATED]

A Magnitude 7.6 earthquake occurred in Southern Mexico today, with the epicenter between Guerrero and Oaxaca. The quake was felt as far North as mexico City, which is approximately 200 miles from the epicenter. Shaking was extremely violent at the epicenter, and for a radius of around 100 miles.

No current reports of damages or injuries, however news is slow to come out of the region, and there will likely be many follow up reports on this.


As expected, reports have started to flood in from Mexico (keep in mind, I wrote this post the second the quake popped up on my Google Earth USGS plugin), and the damage is striking.

Many hundreds if not thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed. 11 people have so far been confirmed dead, which is actually very good considering the magnitude of the quake and the area that it struck. This number will likely rise however, but at this time it does not appear that as many people were hurt or killed. In 1985, a very large and shallow 8.0 quake hit Mexico City, killing up to 10,000 of its citizens.

The quakes in central and Southern Mexico are especially damaging due to the composition of the ground... volcanic ash and clay deposits. These materials conduct seismic waves with ease, and when an earthquake hits, can liquify the ground, sinking buildings. This liquifaction effect was very apparent in video from Japan when the 9.0 quake and tsunami (oh yes, throw int hat nuclear disaster at Fukushima too...) struck. One video showed black water spouting out of sidewalks and lawns.

The 7.6 (some news organizations are incorrectly reporting the magnitude as 7.9) quake has spawned many aftershocks. At this point in time, 17 aftershocks, all ranging from 4.1-5.3, have struck near the area of the initial quake. As a Southern Californian, used to many quakes, I can say from firsthand experience that a 5.0 quake is still no joke, especially if you're near the epicenter. I was present in San Diego when a magnitude 7.2 quake hit Mexico near Mexicali/El Centro (I happened to be camping not 20 miles from the epicenter that day, and had planned to explore the mud caves out there... thankfully my friends and I couldn't find them, or we might have been the ONLY casualties of that quake on the US side of the border!!), and saw the ground ripple. Where I was when the quake actually hit was near the coast, and USGS says that would have felt like a mild 6.0 quake.... nothing mild about it.

Thankfully, Southern California has great construction codes that allow our buildings to nearly shrug off anything up to an 8.0... anything larger would be pushing it. The same is not true in Mexico, which is a very poor country. Most buildings are built without strict adherence to earthquake code, are very old, or are built illegally, making earthquakes that much more dangerous in the region.

Aftershocks and other quakes will happen in the area for a while. The 7.2 quake of Easter 2010 has left the entire Southern California/Northern Baja California fault system in a state of perpetual flux, generating tens of small quakes every day. In another blog post I talk about the recent spate of activity at the Salton Sea, which looks like magma dike intrusion, which began to occur after the quake. Not many people know it, but the entire area from the Salton Sea to Cerro Prieto is a spreading fault, and will erupt in the future *(the newly minted California Volcano Observatory lists the area as a high threat for future eruptions).

Anyhow, welcome to the Pacific Ring of Fire. Subduction quakes are simply a fact of life out here!

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