A firefighter remains beside a body found in the ruins of a house in San Marcos,… (Guatemala Firefighters,…)
MEXICO CITY — A deadly earthquake rattled Guatemala on Wednesday, knocking out electricity, destroying dozens of buildings, and killing at least 39 people, with many more missing or buried, President Otto Perez Molina said.
The quake, which officials called the most powerful temblor to hit the Central American country in 36 years, occurred at 10:35 a.m. along the northern part of Guatemala's Pacific coast. The U.S. Geological Survey measured it as magnitude 7.4, while Guatemala's National Seismological Institute ranked it as magnitude 7.2.
Guatemalan officials initially confirmed three deaths in San Marcos, a city in the country's western interior, but continued revising the number upward as the day went on.
"We must regret the deaths of 39 people," Perez told journalists during an afternoon tour of some of the worst-hit areas, according to the newspaper El Nuevo Siglo. "It's a tragedy, it's really lamentable."
The president said earlier that the areas of San Marcos, Solola and Quetzaltenango had been the hardest hit, along with Guatemala, home to Guatemala City, where some residents and office workers ran into the streets during an extended bout of strong shaking.
Perez said that homes and schools had been destroyed in numerous parts of the country and that the damage was still being assessed.
"The preliminary details that we can mention is that we have 100 people who have disappeared, and the other detail that is preliminary is that we have about 15 people who are buried, with the necessary rescues being performed," he said.
Local media noted that the western city of San Pedro Sacatepequez was hit particularly hard, with dozens of homes destroyed and communication hampered by downed telephone lines and power outages.
The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Mexico and El Salvador. As in the Guatemalan capital, many workers in Mexico City poured out of office buildings onto the city's main artery, the Paseo de la Reforma, though by the afternoon, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard had declared that the city had escaped harm.
The U.S.-run Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported that a tsunami had been generated by the quake. The report had scant details but said the tsunami "may have been destructive along coasts near the earthquake epicenter."
Cecilia Sanchez of the Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.