SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
And while Hurricane Irma threatens South Florida, dozens of people are dead in southern Mexico after a massive earthquake there on Thursday night. The United States Geological Survey says the quake had a magnitude of 8.1. That makes it the strongest quake to hit that country in more than a century. We're going to turn now to Jorge Valencia of member station KJZZ. He joins us now from their Mexico City bureau.
Mr. Valencia, thanks for being with us.
JORGE VALENCIA, BYLINE: Hi. Thank you for calling me.
SIMON: What do we know about the extent of the damage and fatalities?
VALENCIA: The most important thing that we know right now is that more than 60 people were killed as a result of this earthquake. The president, Enrique Pena Nieto, went on national television yesterday saying that there are crews - there are authorities who are responding to the areas that were the hardest hit by this. They were mostly rural areas along the southwestern part of the country. The epicenter of the earthquake was in a state called Chiapas, which borders Guatemala. But the impact was both there and then along the coast, where we had communities, like I said, mostly rural communities or very small cities that were hit.
SIMON: Yeah. So the relative inaccessibility of those areas in Chiapas and Oaxaca are going to challenge both the whole necessity of getting information about what needs to be done and getting aid into the hands of people who need it the most.
VALENCIA: Absolutely. And I think that that's why - the numbers coming out have been coming out very slowly at first. I think during the first 12 hours, I thought that the number was five. Then we thought it was maybe two dozen. And now we're up to more than 60 people.
And in fact, part of what's tragic about this is not just the number but also the communities that have been hit. The community that's worst hit is in a state called Oaxaca. It's a small city, and it's a very poor city. So as with many natural disasters, the communities that get hit the worst sometimes are the communities that were already the most in need.
SIMON: I know a lot of Mexicans still remember the massive 1985 quake that killed more than 10,000 people. I know they've also tried to make a lot of changes. Was Mexico better prepared for this earthquake?
VALENCIA: Yes. As far as I've been able to ascertain, Mexico, in 1990, became the first country in the world with an earthquake alert system for the public. They set up sensors throughout this fault line where these earthquakes come from. The agency that's tasked with this immediately gets a notification, and then they send out notifications in major cities that are near there.
So it's this really jarring siren. And it might give them 60 seconds. It might give them 90 seconds. But those are very, very valuable moments for them to get under a desk, get under a table or, if they're close enough to ground, to leave the building.
SIMON: Did you hear the sirens all the way in Mexico City?
VALENCIA: Yes, we did get the sirens in Mexico City. In fact, I had just gotten to my apartment - I live at the top of an eight-floor building - and I heard the sirens. And because I've only been living here for a year, I wasn't familiar with them. And then maybe 30, 60 seconds later, I noticed things were swaying on my walls. And then, suddenly, everything was moving. And it's a really scary moment because that's when you realize that the ceiling above your head, your bed - it actually could all move like nothing, and it could all crumble down.
SIMON: Jorge Valencia of member station KJZZ, thanks so much for being with us.
VALENCIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.