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Earthquake, September 30, 1999

35 miles NNW of Puerto Angel, Oaxaca
11:31 a.m., latitude 15.89°, longitude 97.07°, Magnitude 7.4

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On Thursday, 9/30/99, at 11:31 a.m., an earthquake centered 2 miles north of Puerto Escondido, latitude 15.88°, longitude 97.07°, of magnitude 7.4 lasted for 41 seconds. There are 12 reported fatalities in Oaxaca City, Santo Domingo Teojomulco, San Jose del Progreso, Puerto Escondido, Mexico City, and Veracruz state. Many homes and buildings collapsed in Oaxaca City, 75 miles away. There was only minor damage in Huatulco; Puerto Escondido reported 15 buildings damaged, one fatality, and electricity was out temporarily. The quake was felt strongly in Mexico City, 310 miles away, and as far south as Guatamala.


Oaxaca earthquake and aftershock data from Servicio Sismologico Nacional.
Date Time   Lat   Long Depth(Km) Mag Area
99/09/3011:31:1415.8897.07 42 7.4COSTA DE OAXACA
99/09/3011:44:45 15.3397.72 16 4.2COSTA DE OAXACA
99/09/3011:50:59 16.1797.45 29 4.1OAXACA
99/09/3014:04:45 16.0997.32 70 4.5OAXACA
99/09/3016:07:44 16.1797.34 48 4.2OAXACA
99/09/3019:20:58 15.8296.92 15 4.2COSTA DE OAXACA
99/09/3019:30:42 16.0297.40 16 4.3OAXACA
99/09/3022:33:37 15.8597.17 34 4.6COSTA DE OAXACA
99/10/0105:00:53 15.9897.35 16 3.7COSTA DE OAXACA
99/10/0109:44:11 15.8697.04 16 4.9COSTA DE OAXACA
99/10/0110:03:43 15.8698.13 20 4.1COSTA DE OAXACA
99/10/0205:23:20 16.0197.27 26 4.3OAXACA
99/10/0205:33:25 17.6698.63 45 3.9GUERRERO-OAXACA
99/10/0206:54:46 15.9797.38 19 3.9COSTA DE OAXACA
99/10/0207:08:29 16.0997.26 20 4.0OAXACA
99/10/0214:22:42 16.7895.14 112 4.0OAXACA
99/10/0320:48:46 16.1097.45 52 4.0OAXACA
99/10/0320:58:09 16.1098.74 15 4.2COSTA GUERRERO-OAXACA
99/10/0409:10:52 15.6496.54 15 4.2COSTA DE OAXACA
99/10/0415:11:42 15.9797.10 51 4.0COSTA DE OAXACA

The Bill Missett Earthquake Report - Puerto Escondido

Dear Folks: The following is the official Bill Missett earthquake report. Sorry it is slightly delayed, but as you will discover, I've been slightly distracted for the past 48 hours. Thanks to all who expressed their concerns.

THE EARTHQUAKE REPORT: The 7.4 or 7.5 or 7.6 (it's been rated at all those levels) which hit Puerto Escondido on Thursday was an extremely violent earthquake which gave no warning that it was approaching. It hit instantly with all the fury of a Mike Tyson sucker punch, and then kicked the shit out of everybody for the next 45 seconds.

I was in my hammock in our second-floor bedroom, reading, when it hit with an instantly violent shaking and extremely loud roaring noise. I shouted, "HOLY SHIT!!!" and hit the deck running, only to find I could barely stand up because the house was shaking so bad. Wanda was upstairs with me, and she was squealing in fright, and running wildly around the upstairs deck. There was stuff falling everywhere, books, typewriters, all the medicine cabinet contents, a quarter of the tile in the upstairs bathroom, everything in our closet, heavy stone artifacts bouncing off their displays, pottery going down stairs, pictures falling off the wall. It even knocked the lid off the toilet tank (it didn't break because it landed on a plunger next to the toilet) and splashed water four feet away from the toilet.

After about 20 seconds, it paused for about 2-3 seconds, and when it did, I made a dash for the stairs, but I didn't have time to get there before the second wave hit, picking up right where the first wave let go, and rapidly accelerated in increasingly more violent shaking. I was certain I was going to ride down to the ground with the upper deck, because I felt the house was going to collapse the shaking was so violent. I aborted my dash down the stairs, and called Wanda back, and we rode it out for another 20-25 seconds, when it stopped as abruptly as it began. But the noise didn't stop, because the house was groaning and clicking as it began settling down. It was still making noise 15 minutes later when I called Patrice to let her know I was OK. Incredibly the phones worked the entire time, but the electricity was off in a flash, and stayed off for seven hours at our house, but is still off in sections of the city as this is written Saturday afternoon, just 48 hours after the quake.

The quake epicenter was just south of Puerto-the experts said 35 miles north of Puerto Angel, and PA is 42 miles from PE, which explains the instantaneous violence of this one. There was no nice shaking to warn you something was coming.

The house suffered a lot of cosmetic damage, but I don't think there is any structural damage, with the possible exception of the south side, which suffered the most damage. (The quake shook mainly north-south.) We have heavy tile damage in the upstairs bathroom and in the kitchen. We have serious cracks in the adobe plaster coat on all sides of the house except the rear, which escaped without a crack. But there are several serious fissures which have to be patched before we take the next serious storm with horizontal rains, which could turn the adobe to mud. We have a crew coming in Monday to start repairs.

There is one reported local death, that of a 13-year-old girl killed by falling debris. There are many injured, a number of them critically, from falling debris and lacerations from broken glass.

Damage is moderate but widespread. Almost every house in town has some damage, and there are a number of houses with serious structural damage. Patti and Jeff, of Art & Harry's, have lost their house. Both their major front and rear retaining walls went down, and their swimming pool is sliding down the hill. Patti has abandoned the house, calling it a total loss. Several stilt houses went down or are crippled. Several local houses collapsed entirely. Tim Ditty lost his concrete palapa deck, and the roofs of several of his warehouse units collapsed onto several boats he had stored in them. Katia's house at Las Olas suffered structural damage to the castillos holding up the concrete roof over their living quarters, one of the rental units behind the Santa Fe lost its roof, a number of multiple-story hotels in town have structural damage. The 3-story building housing Bancomer is in danger of collapse and the bank is closed and will probably have to move to new quarters. The roof facade of the new Ahorarra supermarket collapsed, and there are buildings all over town with partial or entire roof damage, including a fine new furniture store which suffered major damage to almost all its stock when the roof collapsed. At least one vehicle was crushed by falling debris and many storefront glass windows were blown out. Merchants all over town suffered huge stock losses (at liquor stores primarily) and great problems with stock falling in heaps on the floor (like the hardware and food stores). Everything went down.

The highways are seriously damaged in many places, and the only way you can get out of here is to the south. Most mountain highways are closed with landslides, as is the highway to Acapulco. Huge sections of highway just turned into asphalt fragments, blasted apart by the violent shaking. We have several serious highway problems here in town, but they will have to wait for repairs until the more serious problems are addressed. This may induce a food shortage here, because there was no fresh produce from Oaxaca today in Puerto-the only way to get to Oaxaca now is through Salina Cruz, reportedly an 11-hour ride. (It used to be about 8.)

The most extensive damage is in Oaxaca, which lost many old adobe buildings, and suffered great damage and the loss of at least 17 lives, primarily from falling concrete and brickwork. Two new Puerto residents who were visiting in Oaxaca at the time of the quake watched a couple in the street being killed by falling debris, 15 feet from where they were huddled in a doorway. Hundreds of parked cars were crushed to window level throughout the city. Numerous mountain towns and cities-Colotepec, San Pedro, Nopala, Juquilla, -- and coastal towns like Puerto Angel, Chila, suffered major damage, with all the old adobe homes (which were not reinforced with steel and concrete like ours) going down in heaps. The church and city hall in Colotepec went down, and Chila is described as "flattened" because most of the homes there were adobe. There are desperate calls for help to the local radio stations for medical assistance in these outlying mountain towns, all of which are cut off because of collapsed roadways. The only way in and out right now is by helicopter.

We've had a series of aftershocks, in the 4.0-4.9 range, which continue at the rate of several each day. A number of people are suffering nervous distress because of the fear of another big one, and something stronger than a 4.9 is to be expected.

Everybody expects the death toll to rise sharply once rescue units are able to get into these outlying towns, and everybody is waiting for the next big aftershock, which will probably bring down a number of buildings which suffered severe damage in the primary quake.

The gringo crowd here is still slightly dingy from the after-effects of the quake, both physical and psychological, particularly homeowners. It wasn't any fun.

Just a week shy of the anniversary of Hurricane Paulina, (Oct. 8, 1997), this earthquake is described as the worst in memory here. Amado Juarez, who has lived here since 1942, says this one was "mucho mas fuerte" than the 1985 quake which killed 10,000 in Mexico City, which until Thursday was the area's worst earthquake in memory.

That's the earthquake report, now back to our studios.......

Bill Missett

October 2, 1999


Hi Tom. As always, your page may help Huatulco. Believe me; nothing happened here. I felt another quake this morning while diving. It was at 10:25 and it last 3 or 4 seconds. Jaime (my divemaster) and one tourist from Ciudad Juarez, all three hear a loud low frequency sound (as if a big ship were passing over us). This is the sixth time I have been felt an earthquake underwater. I think that this earthquake was very "soft" because nobody felt it on land, but I saw in the news that two more aftershocks occurred today, only perceptible by instruments and barely by humans. That's an interesting experience.

Charlie Ramos

October 3, 1999

Zaashila Huatulco is Okay

I called Andres at the Zaashila, and he told me that they of course felt the earthquake really strong, but absolutely nothing is happened to the hotel structure whatsoever. They were in the middle of receiving a big group and suddenly everything was shaking, so they took the whole group to the beach! Can you believe it! Anyhow thank God nothing really major happened.

Mayes Rubeo
October 3, 1999

The Dragons Roared

The subterranean dragons roared, tectonic plates shifted, and crusts ruptured to release their incredible pent-up pressure. We had a 7.6 quake on September 30, a scary and damaging phenomenon. A quake of that magnitude places it in the top third of major quakes of this century. ...

Fortunately, there was no loss of life [one reported death in Puerto Escondido] and relatively little property damage in Puerto Escondido, owing, no doubt, to strictly enforced construction codes regarding height limits (3 stories) and extra structural reinforcing required by code. No buildings completely collapsed, though some did suffer structural damage which will render them unsafe. Most of the homes, hotels and commercial structures have been built since the codes were introduced, accounting for the relative lack of damage. The quake was stronger than those in Turkey and Taiwan, but the fact that there are many fewer people here and no buildings over three stories prevented tragedies on the scale of those recent quakes. There were some minor injuries and everyone, I think, had breakage. Businesses with stacked inventory had huge messes to clean up and losses of breakable merchandise.

My home, securely anchored to rock, has no structural damage, but a number of clay and ceramic pots and other decorative items fell and were broken irreparably. Other "adornos", candidates I would have thought for sure destruction, survived intact. In towns along the coast and in the Sierra, homes of adobe, and/or built without benefit of code protections, suffered; many of them were destroyed. As always, the poor lost the most.

We are in the middle of the rainy season. The ground is saturated. Walls are damp. Those factors contributed to the damage. Obviously when the earth is least stable, powerful movement produces greater damage. Some bridges and stretches of highway are damaged badly. Road and bridge engineering in this part of the world is definitely inferior, but contrary to early reports, there is access between Puerto Escondido and Huatulco and between Puerto Escondido and Acapulco though, I understand, the going is tediously slow in some sections.

The airport is fully operational and daily flights continue. All in all, given the magnitude of the quake, we escaped with relatively little damage. It's difficult to describe what it's like to experience a major earthquake. Terrifying, baffling, impressive, humbling are some adjectives that come to mind. I'm glad the chances are between slim and none that I'll experience one like it in the years left in my life. I've heard that the quake lasted four minutes, a very long time. That seems about right as I recall it, though I wasn't looking at my watch. I seemed a very long time, indeed, from the moment I heard the first great roar to the moment it ended. We've had seven or eight aftershocks that could be felt, though only two were notable, and even those were absolutely nothing with Thursday's "Big One". The good news is that we've let off our steam, and shouldn't have anything like this for fifty or more years.

Thanks for all the concern expressed in phone calls and e-mails. Abrazos to all.


October 2, 1999

Terremoto Puerto Escondido

Sono Diego Cervini e con mia moglie Daniela Zucco abbiamo vissuto l'esperienza del terremoto del 30 settembre. Fortunatamente possiamo confermare che a parte la forte paura subita, non abbiamo notizie che quí tra le persone di nostra conoscienza ci siano feriti.Anche se di intensitá inaudita, i danni subiti riguardano solamente edifici e case.Quindi tutto bene! Potrebbe essere un miracolo!

Distinti saluti.

Diego Cervini

October 1, 1999

Update from Huatulco

Hi Tom. I've got more info about the earthquake. The last information locates the center of the earthquake 50 miles in front of Puerto Escondido at 50 Km depth.

Puerto Escondido suffered the strongest part of the quake. The magnitude was 7.4 and there have been 15 more movements, the strongest was 4.5.

About Huatulco, everything is fine. There is no damage to the hotels, houses, buildings. There is a bridge damaged between Huatulco and Puerto Escondido, but the highway is already open.

I'm not sure what are the news in US about the earthquake, but we have received cancellations of tourist who planned to come to Huatulco this week. Huatulco is fine, nothing happened here and life runs smoothly and relaxed as always.

Oaxaca City had some damage, as well as Puerto Escondido. Pochutla suffered damage also. The church is closed (the roof is in very bad conditions). I don't have news from Puerto Angel, but as you Americans say: no news good news.

Charlie Ramos

October 1, 1999

No One Hurt in Puerto Angel

Just some shaking here in paradise... We were having lunch and then continued to eat, just to give you an idea of how it was! So, no buildings damaged or anything of the like, much less anyone hurt. Please put the word out since many calls have been coming in, the international press is really misguiding people in terms of the damages and fatalities, although they are correct in their reading of the richter scale. Puerto Escondido had some minor damages, but that only because some buildings are made pretty poorly. Thank the stars, no worries and all is well.

Kali López
La Posada Cañon de Vata

TEL/FAX (52) 958-4-30-48
October 1, 1999

Flooding is Worse Than Earthquake

Tom: I'm Armando, one of the owners of the Internet server in Puerto Escondido. News about the earthquake are exaggerated:

Fortunately, there's only one registered death in the place: a local woman who died by a brick wall that felt on her.

All services are working 99%. A couple of buildings suffered big damages, but only one has to be removed (where the bank Bancomer was operating). the supermarket Ahorrará suffered a very little damage. However, much of the merchandise fell to the floor, but the business re-opened 24 hours later.

Electricity was reestablished at 7 p.m. the same day, and everybody is going back to his normal activity. Houses in Puerto Escondido are small and we suffered losses only on domestic staff, like TV sets, or glasses. Some people felt down running to avoid danger and children cried overwhelmed about something they didn't know.

Life continues. The road is pretty bad, but the cause is the rain. Personally, that morning, I traveled to Huatulco and went back at night, and the road is 5% more damaged than it was before the earthquake.

Small towns close to Puerto Escondido have problems on their roads, and old buildings fell down, but there are only minor personal injuries.

It's still raining, and that's worse than the consequences of the earthquake, but people is organizing by themselves and all government people came here to help everybody to fix the roads and rebuild their houses.

Armando E. Ibarra Razo

October 1, 1999

Damage in Puerto Escondido

October 1, 1999   I don't know when I will be able to send this. We didn't lose TelMex, but the server is down.

I didn't sustain any damage. The engineer who did the structural design told me at the time that he specified a structure with 8x the legal requirements for earthquakes. It paid off. Everyone else I talked to sustained lots of breakage - lamps, china, roof tiles, plaster, etc.

I haven't been out, but I have been told that the Mexican houses sustained enormous damage. There were a lot of injuries. Most, I am told came from people running out of buildings and getting hit with roof tiles and other debris. Bancomer is roped off and propped up. Ahorrara lost part of its roof. The bridge to Chila is out. You probably know that it began 35k this side of Puerto Angel and was 7.6 (or 7.4 or 7.5 - depending upon the source). Natives say it was stronger than anything they have encountered here in the past.

Interestingly, my maid, Munda, was much more frightened than she was in the hurricane; even though this just wiggled the house for a minute or maybe less. The hurricane knocked down our garden, got everything soaked, etc. and lasted a long time. Hope all is well,

Dr. Garnet Beach

October 1, 1999

Huatulco Report

Hi Tom. The earthquake was too strong. The magnitus was 7.4 Richter and it was almost one minute long.

There are no damage nor victims in Huatulco and Puerto Angel. In Puerto Escondido a wall fell down and it "crushed" a car. Many people suffered nervous crisis but right now all is fine.

The only remaining problem is the phone. The service in my neighborhood is coming on and off, so I can't extend too much because in three times the connection has come down.

I'll send you more info tomorrow, but there are not victims and the buildings are OK.

Charlie Ramos

September 30, 1999

Puerto Angel Report

Dear Tom, The earthquake was the longest and strongest we ever had but thanks God, there were no damages here in Puerto Angel. We've heard from damages in Puerto Escondido and Tonameca but no details.

In Oaxaca City 5 people died because of broken houses. In our area people have not been harmed, there have just been some nerve-breakdowns and cases of hysteria.

The roads are covered with rocks but we don't know if it was the earthquake or the rain which is falling now since five days almost without stopping. This rain is causing here more damages than the earthquake.

The population of Puerto Angel recovered very fast from the shock and kept on with the preparation of 'Puerto Angels Party' (Día del Angel) which begins tomorrow and probably lasts for 3 days. Sorry that I don't have more detailed information.

Harald Ferber
Hotel Puesta del Sol

September 30, 1999

Puerto Escondido Report

I live in Mexico city and I called Mary at the beach Hotel Ines in Zicatela and she told me that the movement was very hard, that they couldn't be stand up, but they are o.k. There is some damage to the roads between Pinotepa Nacional and Puerto Escondido because the bridge of Chila is damaged. There is not much damage in Puerto Escondido. If someone knows something else about this, please send me an email. Thank you.

Familia Gonzalez Urrutia

September 30, 1999

Huatulco Report

Here in Huatulco there is not much damage. Everything is OK. At the Sheraton Huatulco Resort only a few windows broken, the rest is okay.

Dr. Andres Gonzalez Ayvar
September 30, 1999

At Piña Palmera, We are fine!

Dear friends, as most of you probably know by now we had an earthquake here this morning, 7.5 on the Richter-scale. We are fine! The earth moved from side to side. It was a terryfying experience but all our buildings are fine. We still don't know how the situation is in the villages we work or in the city of Oaxaca. In Pochutla shelves, stands and furniture fell and many houses have cracks but no more.

Love from

Anna Johansson de Cano
"Piña Palmera" A.C.

September 30, 1999

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