The earthquake that struck the coast of southern Mexico, late on September 7th, was a big one, with a magnitude of 8.2. At least 61 people were killed, mostly in the country’s south. In Tabasco, a toddler died under a collapsing wall and a newborn perished in his respirator when the hospital caring for him lost power. A video from Juchitán in the state of Oaxaca, which was especially hard hit, shows a man draping a Mexican flag on the debris of the partially destroyed city hall. Even in Mexico City, some 650km away from the epicentre, the Ángel de la Independencia monument, bathed in green and red light for upcoming national holidays, swayed. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, called the quake the strongest in at least a century.
But it was not the most destructive. In 1985 a slightly smaller quake—measuring 8.0—off the coast of Michoacán state in the west killed at least 10,000 people, many of them in Mexico City. At least 40 live babies were pulled out of the rubble of a collapsed hospital. The quake was catastrophic for the country’s political establishment, too. Miguel de la Madrid, then the president, was already beset by multiple crises, including the effects of falling oil prices and excessive debt. He appeared paralysed by the disaster and initially rejected foreign aid.