OAXACA CITY, Mexico — The death toll rose to 20 Friday as officials assessed the damage and residents began to clear away fallen debris from a powerful earthquake that rattled nine of Mexico's 31 states.
Roofs crumbled, roads buckled, and electricity was cut off in the poor southeastern state of Oaxaca, the epicenter of Thursday's magnitude 7.5 quake. Officials said that 3,850 buildings were damaged and cautioned that the death toll may rise as information trickles in from remote mountain areas.
President Ernesto Zedillo flew to Oaxaca on Friday and took a helicopter tour over the stricken region.
The earthquake's epicenter was close to the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state, near the coastal towns of Puerto Angel and Puerto Escondido, 310 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Experts said the quake caused relatively little damage because it hit sparsely populated areas.
In Oaxaca City, dozens of patients shivered overnight in tents after their hospital was evacuated.
Authorities moved 62 patients to the hospital plaza, where they spent the night under a 55-degree drizzle beneath two large plastic canopies.
Inspection teams, however, said the 34-year-old building sustained only minor damage and expected the patients would soon return to their rooms.
Oaxaca City residents swept up dust and fallen plaster on Friday and counted their blessings at being spared the huge death tolls suffered in Taiwan and Turkey, where thousands of people died in recent weeks after similarly strong quakes.
"I feel sorry about the dead but we're really very lucky because the damage has been minimal compared with how strong it felt," said Perez, whose car was dented by falling bricks during the quake.
In Nazareno Etla, just north of Oaxaca City, residents hoped that the government might help them rebuild homes destroyed by the quake.