Strong quake kills two as church collapses in Guatemala, shakes Mexico

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (Reuters) - A strong earthquake hit southwestern Guatemala near the border with Mexico in the early hours of Wednesday, killing at least two people and damaging buildings, including a church and a border bridge, officials said.

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The 6.9-magnitude quake damaged buildings in the neighboring southern Mexican state of Chiapas, authorities said, but there were no immediate reports of deaths in Mexico.

“The earthquake was felt throughout the national territory and damage assessment has begun,” said Julio Sanchez, spokesman for Guatemala’s Conred national disaster center.

The earthquake hit 15 km (10 miles) west-northwest of the city of San Marcos, around 1:30 a.m. at a relatively deep 111 km (69 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The shallower the quake, the more dangerous it can be.

A number of aftershocks were reported during the day.

Power went off in the Guatemalan departments of Retalhuleu, Quetzaltenango and Suchitepequez, authorities said. A church collapsed in San Sebastian, Retalhuleu, killing a man, emergency services reported.

A woman died in Tacana in the department of San Marcos after her house collapsed on her in the quake, Sanchez said.

Three other people died of heart attacks that Guatemalan authorities said were brought on by the quake.

A bridge connecting Guatemala and Mexico over the Suchiate river was closed because of damage, the Guatemalan government said.

The Civil Protection Authority in Mexico’s Chiapas posted photos on Twitter showing damaged buildings and homes.

The USGS initially reported the quake, which struck when many residents were asleep, as a magnitude 7.0.

In late 2012, a far shallower 7.4-magnitude quake off the coast of Guatemala near the Mexican border killed at least 48 people and trapped others under rubble.

Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City and Nelson Renteria in San Salvador; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Peter Cooney