Editor's note: The death toll has risen to more than 200 since the publishing of this article.
Sept. 20—The earthquake struck at the height of morning rush hour, toppling buildings, igniting fires and leaving residents panicked in the streets.
It happened 32 years ago, exactly. On Sept. 19, 1985, a 7.8 earthquake struck off the southwest coast of Mexico, jolting the capital city and small towns throughout the country. At least 4,200 people died—possibly many more—and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.
Chaos again erupted in Mexico on Tuesday, the anniversary of the 1985 temblor, when a 7.1 earthquake hit the country, killing at least several dozen.
The irony was not lost, nor the sense of remembered panic, as frightened residents in Mexico City raced out of their homes and stood in the streets, terrified to go back inside.
The earthquake in 1985 hit Mexico City especially hard. At General Hospital, near the city's central core, more than 250 people died when a tower on the building collapsed.
At the time, President Miguel de la Madrid went on the radio to appeal for calm.
"Above all, the first priority is to save human lives," de la Madrid told listeners. "Unfortunately, there appear to be many dead. All of the hospitals are on a state of alert to take care of the injured. The army is on a state of alert."
Howard L. Lester, an amateur radio operator in Schenectady, N.Y., reported that he had monitored a transmission between a Mexico City operator and another in Tucson, Ariz.
Speaking in English, the Mexico City operator said:
"This is no joke... We have only one radio channel left. It's a government channel. We're trying to get it working so we can tell the world what is happening."
In the hours after the earthquake, 10 aftershocks hit Mexico City as streets were blocked with debris and medical personnel trying to help those trapped.