Helicopter crash kills 13 after strong quake hits Mexico

At least 13 people on the ground, including three children, were killed when a Mexican military helicopter carrying top officials surveying damage from an earthquake crashed in a small town in the southern state of Oaxaca, authorities say.

Interior minister, Oaxaca governor not seriously hurt as helicopter went down

People react after an earthquake shook buildings in Mexico City on Friday. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

At least 13 people on the ground, including three children, were killed when a Mexican military helicopter carrying top officials surveying damages from an earthquake crashed in a small town in the southern state of Oaxaca, authorities said on Saturday.

The helicopter, which was carrying Mexico's interior minister and the state governor, crashed on top of two vans in an open field while trying to land in Santiago Jamiltepec after a tour of damage from a powerful earthquake on Friday, officials said.

The senior officials survived, but 12 people at the scene were killed and another died later in a hospital, Oaxaca's attorney general's office said in a statement. Fifteen more people were injured.

The 7.2 magnitude quake left nearly a million homes and businesses without power in Mexico City and the south and damaged at least 50 homes in Oaxaca.

A patient is moved from a hospital during Friday's powerful earthquake. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

Luis Cabrera, a civil protection official at the scene, said authorities were still investigating the cause of the crash.
The 7.2 magnitude quake knocked out electricity in Santiago Jamiltepec, about 45 kilometres from the tremor's epicentre, leaving the town in darkness Friday night.

A journalist on board the flight told local TV that the helicopter had flown in over a clearing next to homes, raising a huge dust cloud before it crash landed. 

At a home near the accident site, family members gathered to mourn their loved ones after officials returned their bodies.

Many lashed out in anger at authorities.

"The governor was supposedly coming to help, but what was the help, the aid, we received? This was the aid," said Eduardo Juarez, a relative of one victim.

This time it was strong, but it did not jump up and down.- Guadalupe Martinez, Mexico City resident

Mexican Defence Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos arrived at the scene on Saturday and spoke with locals, offering apologies for the accident, local TV showed.

The state, along with Mexico City, is still reeling from earthquakes that caused widespread damage in September and killed at least 471 people.

The powerful, sustained shaking on Friday gave way to 194 aftershocks, the national seismology service said, and caused widespread panic. In Mexico City, the seismic alarm sounded 72 seconds before tremors were felt, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said, giving residents time to flee to the streets.

Patricia Gutierrez, a 66-year-old English teacher, was taking a nap with her 11-month-old granddaughter, Juliet, when she heard the distinctive siren.

"She recognized the sound. When I opened my eyes, I saw her eyes in terror. Her eyes were wide, like plates. She didn't say anything," Gutierrez said of her granddaughter.

Gutierrez managed to leave her ground floor apartment before the quake began.

"I left the phone and everything except for my shoes and the baby," she said. Authorities said no deaths have been reported nationally.

Bricks and rubble

The Oaxacan town of Jamiltepec appeared to sustain the heaviest impact in the southern region, with 50 homes damaged along with a church and government building, the state's civil protection agency said.

Patients were evacuated from a hospital there and from another in the nearby town of Putla Villa de Guerrero. On a local highway, a fire ignited when two high-tension electric cables struck each other.

In the town of Pinotepa Nacional close to the quake's epicentre, a photo obtained from Oaxaca's civil protection agency showed a single-story building where a portion of the brick facade had crumbled into the street. A hospital was also damaged, and a collapsed structure blocked a major highway.

People stand on the street after an earthquake shook buildings in Mexico City on Friday. (Claudia Daut/Reuters)

About 100,000 people in Oaxaca had lost power, the state's governor said.

Tremors were felt as far away as Guatemala to the south.

In Mexico City, tall buildings swayed for more than a minute as seismic alarms sounded, with older structures in the chic Condesa neighbourhood knocking into each other, and some cracks appearing in plaster and paintwork.

The Popocatepetl volcano south of the capital sent a kilometre-high column of ash into the sky, said Mexico's disaster prevention agency.

Students from a public school sit in an open area after the school was evacuated in Veracruz. (Felix Marquez/Associated Press)

Trees, overhead cables and cars swayed, and a fire truck raced down the street.

Guadalupe Martinez, a 64-year-old retiree, said she was still shaking from shock. But the quake was a far cry from the tremors that struck Mexico in September, Martinez said.

"This time it was strong, but it did not jump up and down," she said.