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13 killed in helicopter crash after Mexican quake

Last Updated Feb 17, 2018 at 4:45 pm EDT

A military helicopter carrying officials assessing damage from a powerful earthquake crashed Friday in southern Mexico, killing 13 people and injuring 15, all of them on the ground.

The Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office said in a statement that five women, four men and three children were killed at the crash site and another person died later at the hospital.

Jorge Rosales, a local reporter who was aboard the helicopter when it crashed, described harrowing moments as the pilot lost control and the helicopter attempted to land in a swirl of dust.

“The moment the helicopter touched down it lost control, it slid — like it skidded — and it hit some vehicles that were stationed in the area,” he told a Mexican television news program. “In that moment, you couldn’t see anything, nothing else was heard beside the sound that iron makes when it scrapes the earth.”

Mexico’s Interior Department said that the helicopter was carrying Secretary Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca state Gov. Alejandro Murat, who were evaluating reports of damage from the powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake, before their helicopter crashed. The helicopter was attempting to land on a vacant lot in the city of Jamiltepec, about 19 miles from the area of Pinotepa Nacional, the Mexican army said.

The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the magnitude of Friday’s quake at 7.5 but later lowered it to 7.2. It said the epicenter was 33 miles (53 kilometres) northeast of Pinotepa in southern Oaxaca state and had a depth of 15 miles (24 kilometres).

President Enrique Pena Nieto said via Twitter that both officials and crew were fine, although the interior department said that they had light injuries.

There were no reports of severe damage from the quake, but it rekindled fears in a population that still sees daily reminders of deadly earthquakes five months ago.

Maricarmen Trujillo was in the same place Friday on the eighth floor of a Mexico City office building where she rode out a Sept. 19 earthquake that killed 228 people in the capital alone.

“I relived a lot of those moments,” Trujillo said, still jittery. But this time an emergency app on her cellphone gave her a 30-second warning before things started to shake. She stayed in place, but felt more prepared.

Other people in Mexico City and southern Oaxaca state, where the quake’s epicenter was located, flooded the streets as the ground seethed, memories of collapsed buildings still fresh. A magnitude 8.2 quake on Sept. 7 killed nearly 100 people in Oaxaca and neighbouring Chiapas.

In Mexico City, the wounds from the Sept. 19 quake still had not healed when Friday’s earthquake struck. Many buildings left uninhabitable are still awaiting demolition. People pass roped off cracked buildings and cleared lots on a daily basis.

Mercedes Rojas Huerta wasted no time running barefoot out of her home in Mexico City’s Condesa neighbourhood when she heard the earthquake alarm on Friday. The district is the site of numerous collapsed and badly damaged buildings from last year’s temblor.

“I’m scared,” Rojas Huerta said outside her home, too afraid to go back inside, recalling how the buildings fell five months ago. “The house is old.”

The streets of Condesa were flooded by residents fleeing their homes, including one woman wrapped just in a towel.

The U.S. Geological Survey originally put the magnitude of Friday’s quake at 7.5 but later lowered it to 7.2. It said the epicenter was 33 miles (53 kilometres) northeast of Pinotepa in southern Oaxaca state. It had a depth of 15 miles (24 kilometres).

About an hour after the quake, a magnitude-5.8 aftershock also centred in Oaxaca caused tall buildings in Mexico City to briefly sway again.

USGS seismologist Paul Earle said Friday’s earthquake appeared to be a separate temblor, rather than an aftershock of a Sept. 7 earthquake in Oaxaca.

Mexican Civil Protection chief Luis Felipe Puente tweeted that there were no immediate reports of damages from Friday’s quake and by the evening there had been no reports of deaths.

The Oaxaca state government said via Twitter that only material damages were reported near Pinotepa and Santiago Jamiltepec. But it added that shelters had been opened for those fleeing damaged homes.

Gladys Barreno Castro was at work on the 29th floor of a downtown office building in Mexico City, but recognized quickly that the shaking was not as violent this time.

“It lasted a long time, but it wasn’t as strong,” Barreno said. “This time it moved, but I didn’t think that it was going to destroy the city like the last time.”

AP science writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.