8.1 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Off Coast Of Mexico (Photos)

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Citizens of Mexico were awoken late on Sept. 7 after an 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck off the nation's southeast coast. It is said to be the strongest earthquake Mexico has endured in more than eight decades.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake's epicenter occurred in the ocean at a depth of 43 miles, Reuters reports. The coastal adjacent town of Pijijiapan was 54 miles away.

John Bellini, a geophysicist at the USGS's National Earthquake Information Center, said Mexico has not had an 8.1 magnitude earthquake since the 1932 earthquake in Jalisco.

Luis Carlos Briceño, who was visiting Mexico City at the time of the quiake, said: “I had never been anywhere where the earth moved so much. At first I laughed, but when the lights went out I didn’t know what to do. I nearly fell over," The Guardian reports.

Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported waves as high as 2.3 feet in Mexico, according to NBC News. Warnings of aftershocks possible tsunamis were set off throughout Latin countries and as far as certain areas of Southeast Asia, though that threat is now over.

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Several people lost their lives in the earthquake. Gov. Alejandro Murat said at least 45 died in the state of Oaxaca. Officials reported deaths in the Tabasco and Chiapas states, and three children were among the deceased.

Mexican President Pena Nieto said about 50 million of Mexico's roughly 120 million people felt the quake in some aspect, with aftershocks expected to come, according to Reuters. He urged citizens to check their homes for signs of danger, such as gas leaks.

Though Mexico City was largely spared from major structural damage, other cities were not as fortunate. Several buildings in Juchitan -- including sections of the town hall -- have been torn to rubble.

During the quake, thousands of people were quick to run outside, many of them in pajamas.

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"It felt horrible, and I thought, 'This [building] is going to fall,'" said 35-year-old Liliana Villa, who ran outside of her apartment when the ground began to shake, The Guardian reports.

While the ground was shaking, those who looked up while outside may have noticed a different natural phenomenon in the sky: "earthquake lights." Recordings of the lights began to circulate on social media shortly after the quake.

Scientists do not know the exact cause of earthquake lights, which appear as multi-colored flashes in the sky, the Daily Mail notes. Some have speculated that it may have something to do with electrical charges released by rocks during a tectonic disturbance.

Similar lights were reported in the 2009 earthquake in L'Aquila, Italy and the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

Sources: Reuters via MSN, Daily Mail, The Guardian, NBC News / Featured Image: US Department of the Interior via Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: USGS via KSDK, El Universal/Rex/Shutterstock via Daily Mail

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