Oaxaca, Mexico is a stunning city filled with colonial and Zapotec architecture near the southern tail of the country. Along with nearby Monte Alban, the city is a World Heritage Site. It is heavily driven by tourism, and home to 255,000 people, and it is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, which stretches coast to coast across the narrow wrist of Central America.

At 10:29 in the morning, June 23, a massive earthquake rattled the state. It was measured as 7.4, with over 140 aftershocks and a tsunami warning along the Pacific shore. Fortunately, the tsunami didn’t manifest, but the quake still did its share of damage. Many of the historic structures in the capital have minor damage. So far, only five people have been reported to have died due to the quake, mostly due to building collapses.

At 7.4, this earthquake was significantly larger than the 6.9 quake which flattened San Francisco in 1989, caused 63 deaths, and inspired a revolution in building code requirements all the way around the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” This earthquake happened because the Cocos plate, which lies under the Pacific Ocean to the southwest of the region, slipped in its progression beneath the North American continental plate.

Earthquakes are common in Mexico. In fact, the country is considered one of the most seismically active countries in the world. Three converging plates meet near Oaxaca – the aforementioned Cocos and North American plates, and the great Pacific plate. The state suffered another quake greater than 7.2 just two years ago, and an 8.1 quake in 1985 which killed almost 10,000 people in Mexico City, which is near enough that both cities felt this most recent one. Between Mexico City and Oaxaca, four active volcanoes also pose a threat. The most recent eruption was in 2010.


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