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Mexico quake kills 65, deadly storm strikes
By Yemeli ORTEGA
Juchitan De Zaragoza, Mexico (AFP) Sept 9, 2017

Mexico's alert system plays its part as quake strikes
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 8, 2017 - Sirens wailed across Mexico City late Thursday warning its estimated 20 million population of a rapidly approaching quake from the Pacific, the latest use of its effective early warning system.

By the time alarmed residents felt the first shockwaves from the 8.2 magnitude quake, many had already made it onto the streets or into parks, well away from trembling and swaying buildings.

For the past two decades, Mexico's seismic alert system, known by the initials CIRES, has provided the city with an early warning of disaster, using a hundred sensors placed along its Pacific coast, where the risk of an earthquake is greatest.

It can take a minute for seismic waves from a quake's epicenter to reach the capital, several hundred kilometers away. Even at that distance, Mexico City is vulnerable because it sits on an ancient lakebed and the relatively loose soil makes it prone to severe shaking.

Once the earthquake is detected, the system sets off a radio wave that triggers alarms in schools, ministries and offices, and automatically interrupts radio broadcasts.

Such technology was not available at the time of the 8.1 magnitude earthquake of September 19, 1985, which killed more than 10,000 people and razed large swathes of the city.

- Radio waves -

The servers used by the CIRES association are installed in an old three-storey house and are on a constant electronic watch for any ground vibrations that will trigger an alarm.

On a screen, technicians can monitor a real-time display of the different sensors represented by light diodes.

Since the system was launched in 1993, CIRES has issued more than 60 earthquake alerts of at least 6.0 magnitude.

An alarm system is not an absolute guarantee of safety, especially if it is triggered in the middle of the night when most of the population is asleep.

Luckily, though the latest quake struck late Thursday night, the population was still largely awake and able to move to safety relatively quickly.

- Smartphone alarm -

Smartphone seismic technology has also come to the fore in Mexico in recent years, and users can receive alerts via applications such as SkyAlert or Alerta Sismica DF.

Two seconds after an earthquake, SkyAlert is supposed to ping a "Seismic Alert!" to mobile phones.

The application, launched in 2013, was initially connected to the CIRES system, but its young founder Alejandro Cantu has since bought his own sensors from Japan and deployed them along the Pacific coast.

The app quickly became popular and within a couple of years its free version had more than three million users. A paid version allows users to customize alerts.

To send out warnings, the application uses a high-speed internet network instead of telephone lines, a guarantee of reliability according to its founder.

However, when the quake, described as the biggest in a century by the country's president, struck on Thursday, the SkyAlert app was ominously silent.

Rescuers pulled bodies from the rubble and grieving families carried coffins through the streets Saturday after Mexico's biggest earthquake in a century killed 65 people, while elsewhere two died in mudslides unleashed by storm Katia.

Officials raised the death toll from Thursday night's quake as more bodies were found in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

In the town of Juchitan, Oaxaca, hundreds of families spent the night camped in the streets, too scared to go back inside for fear of aftershocks.

The Mexican Seismological Service reported 721 aftershocks.

On Saturday, people in Juchitan queued up for food at a shop window as families carried flowers and wreaths, and eventually coffins.

Ignacio Chavez said his son died in the quake.

"He didn't have time to get out and the building completely collapsed," Chavez told AFP.

"It was a very old building, over 200 years old, and unfortunately out of the seven people who were inside only four were able to be rescued. The other three died."

Authorities raised the overall death toll throughout Saturday.

In Juchitan, emergency teams with search dogs found the body of a policeman under the rubble of city hall.

Federal civil protection chief Luis Felipe Puente told Televisa three more people were found dead in Chiapas state.

- Record quake -

President Enrique Pena Nieto described the quake as "the largest registered in our country in at least the past 100 years" -- stronger even than a devastating 1985 earthquake that killed more than 10,000 people in Mexico City.

Mexico's seismology service measured Thursday's quake at magnitude 8.2.

The US Geological Survey measured it at 8.1 -- the same magnitude as the 1985 disaster.

The epicenter of Thursday's quake was in the Pacific Ocean, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) off the town of Tonala in Chiapas.

AFP reporters in Tonala saw residents salvaging belongings from their ruined houses.

"All my body is shaking," said local man Roberto Olivera, 39. "Every time a car passes by, I feel like it's an earthquake."

- Child victims -

Pena Nieto earlier toured Juchitan, its streets a maze of rubble, with roofs, cables, insulation and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.

He said authorities were working to "restore water and food supplies and provide medical attention to those affected."

"I can't remember an earthquake this terrible," said Vidal Vera, 29, one of around 300 police officers who dug through the rubble.

"I don't know how you can make sense of it. It's hard. My sister-in-law's husband died. His house fell on top of him."

In Tabasco state, two children were among the dead, officials said. One was crushed by a collapsing wall. Another, an infant on a respirator, died after the quake triggered a power outage.

- 'My house fell down' -

Meanwhile, Katia made landfall in the neighboring state of Veracruz as a Category One hurricane.

It was later downgraded to a tropical storm, before petering out on Saturday.

In Xalapa, the capital of the eastern state of Veracruz, "two people died in mudslides" triggered by the rainstorm, Puente said.

In Tecolutla, a coastal town of 8,000 residents, trees and branches were felled as families hunkered down to weather the storm.

Puente said rivers that flooded in Veracruz had damaged 235 homes and affected more than 900 people.

"My house fell down at about one o'clock in the morning. I was hiding in another house," Castellano Espinosa, a 75-year-old tour guide said in Tecolutla.

"I got out in time with my important belongings and papers."

She was trying to sell some of her belongings to buy food.

Improving earthquake resistance with a single crystal
Sendai, Japan (SPX) Sep 04, 2017
A new heating method for certain metals could lead to improved earthquake-resistant construction materials. Tohoku University researchers and colleagues have found an economical way to improve the properties of some 'shape memory' metals, known for their ability to return to their original shape after being deformed. The method could make way for the mass production of these improved metal ... read more

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