Dozens homeless in western Mexico after huge quake

PASO CUAULOTE Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:35pm EDT

1 of 20. Books and debris are seen in a classroom of Francisco Larrayo's School, damaged by an earthquake on Tuesday, at the village of Paso Cuaulote, in the Mexican state of Guerrero March 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

PASO CUAULOTE (Reuters) - Dozens of families cleared rubble from their destroyed homes in southwestern Mexico on Wednesday following a major 7.4-magnitude earthquake that caused landslides, knocked down school walls and cracked a church tower.

At least 100 houses collapsed and 1,000 were damaged near the epicenter of Tuesday's quake in the municipality of Ometepec in Guerrero state, said Jorge Catalan, an official from the Ministry of Social Development.

No one was killed, but many residents, terrified by repeated aftershocks, spent the night outside and local officials said they were preparing shelters and food aid for people who lost their homes.

Eleven people were injured in the tremor, the strongest to hit the country since the devastating 8.1-magnitude quake of 1985 that killed thousands in Mexico City.

Large boulders from landslides blocked the road to the small town of Paso Cuaulote where nearly all 150 villagers, who grow beans and corn, were hit.

"I thought the world was going to end," said farmer Vicente Santiago, 30, surveying a crumbled wall in his father's cinder block home. His father, taking a nap when the quake hit, escaped unharmed even after the roof caved in.

Maria Lopez, 33, fled her home with her 2-week-old baby boy and spent the night by the river with the rest of the town.

"Rocks were falling from the mountainside onto the house," said Lopez clutching her baby outside her seriously cracked mud-brick home.

Students picked their way through rubble-strewn classrooms on Wednesday at one of the three primary schools damaged in the municipality.

"The children were shouting. We had to evacuate," said teacher Abel Hernandez.

In the nearby town of Igualapa, one of the towers on the colonial-era church crumbled, although locals were still holding a service inside.

In Mexico City, residents were largely spared, with only small cracks in buildings and minor damage to one subway line and a bridge. Mexico City is about 200 miles north-northeast of the epicenter.

The capital's repair bill for the quake, which was felt as far away as Guatemala should come in under $2 million, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard said.

The type of the earthquake - it shook the city from side to side rather than up and down - and better construction regulations since 1985 saved the city from more serious damage, Ebrard told national television.

(Additional reporting by Elinor Comlay in Mexico City; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Peter Cooney)