Graeme Kishiuchi braced himself as his 17th-storey apartment started shaking violently.

A crack appeared along the wall and picture frames flew across the room.

The Edmonton native lives in Mexico City with his wife Kelly and their two boys Clark and Rowan.

Kishiuchi was home alone when a 7.1 earthquake struck on Tuesday, devastating the capital region.

'Is this really happening?'

"So you hear the alarm go off and it started shaking, and I was saying to myself, is this really happening? And then it really picked up intensity," Kishiuchi said in an interview Wednesday with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

Mexico family

Graeme Kishiuchi lives in Mexico with his wife Kelly and their boys Clark and Rowan. (Graeme Kishiuchi/Facebook)

"I was watching my lights swing around and the blinds swing around and things topple off shelves. I was trying to make sure I was in a safe spot." 

As the room lurched, Kishiuchi took refuge in a narrow hallway in the middle of the apartment, hoping the building could withstand the tremors.

"I was really focused on making sure, what comes next if this gets worse ... is this for me going to be the end of the line?"

While the structure was still swaying violently, Kishiuchi received messages from his wife, who was at work, and from his children's school.

Kishiuchi legs trembled with relief. His family was safe.  

Others have not been so fortunate.

The earthquake caused dozens of buildings to collapse, sparked fires across the city, and sent crushing debris flying into the streets.

At least 245 people were killed in central Mexico and more than 2,000 were injured. Rescue workers continue the grim work of searching the rubble for survivors and bodies of those who died.

The frantic search efforts remain focused on a school destroyed on the city's south side, where 21 children and four adults have been confirmed dead.

Volunteers have been using cranes and shovels, sometimes digging with their hands in attempt to pull survivors from the wreckage, in what has been described as a "race against time."


A rescue worker gestures as he searches through the rubble for students at Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico, September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido - RC170A826090 (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

While Kishiuchi's neighbourhood, a fairly recent development, was largely spared any damage, just a few kilometres away, entire streets of the capital region were destroyed.

The wail of sirens and the clip of choppers overhead can be heard day and night, Kishiuchi said.

The devastation has been an "eye-opener" for Kishiuchi. He knows his family could have easily been injured or killed.

'You just feel so powerless'

Dark thoughts raced through his mind when the earthquake struck, and he can't stop thinking about the cruel fate others have met.

The dangerous power of earthquakes is something he never considered during his time in Alberta, and the disaster has them reconsidering the family's future in Mexico.

"That's something that we've been going over quite a bit, how lucky we were and how it really was the opposite of that for so many families," Kishiuchi said.

"I think there is that overwhelming power of Mother Nature. You just feel so powerless, and I had those thoughts when our building was shaking so violently.

"Thinking about my kids, thinking about my wife, and thinking about all those people that had those thoughts and then it did come to fruition — it's very surreal, it's a bullet dodged."

There are currently 3,320 Canadians known to be in Mexico. There have been no reports of Canadian casualties.

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the the show on Twitter @CBCRadioActive.