The powerful earthquake killed more than 10,000 and left another 30,000 others injured and as many as a quarter of a million people homeless. At around 7:19 a.m. on September 19, 1985, Mexico City, one of the world’s largest urban areas, was jolted by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake, one of the strongest to ever hit the area. The quake was centered off the Pacific coast of Michoacán, more than 200 miles west of Mexico City, the nation’s capital. However, much of the damage was in Mexico City, which was constructed on an ancient lake bed whose soft sediments amplify seismic waves.

Mexico City Earthquake: September 19, 1985

More than 10,000 people died as a result of the quake, some 30,000 others were injured and an estimated 250,000 people were left homeless. More than 400 buildings collapsed and thousands more were damaged. (The disaster exposed the fact that government corruption had allowed for lax enforcement of building codes.) Making matters worse, on the evening of September 20, a magnitude 7.5 aftershock shook the region.

Did you know? Mexico City is located at an elevation of more than 7,300 feet above sea level. By comparison, Denver, Colorado, nicknamed the Mile High City, is 5,280 feet above sea level.

1985 Mexico City Earthquake: Slow Government Response

Mexico’s president, Miguel de la Madrid (1934-2012), was criticized for his government’s weak response to the disaster. At first, the president rejected offers of international aid and played down the damage caused by the quake. In response, citizens organized their own rescue brigades.

In the aftermath of the 1985 earthquake, an early-alert earthquake warning system was established in Mexico City and other safety measures were enacted.