MEXICO: The death toll from a powerful earthquake that rocked Mexico on Tuesday has surged to 224 people, including 117 in the capital, said Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong.

The dead included at least 21 children crushed beneath a primary school that collapsed on Mexico City´s south side during the 7.1-magnitude quake, authorities said.

Rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City -- home to 20 million people -- clawed through the rubble of at least 49 collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.

Local media reported that families were getting Whatsapp messages pleading for help from desperate relatives trapped under the debris.

Mexico City recorded 36 of the deaths, while Morelos state directly south of it saw 64 killed. The others were registered in Puebla (29), a town southeast of the capital, and in Mexico state (nine), which lies just to the west of the capital.

National Coordinator for Civil Protection Luis Felipe Puente said a total of at least 138 people died.

Memories of the devastating 1985 earthquake that killed 10,000 people in Mexico City spurred panic on Tuesday. Many quickly ran for safety outdoors when walls around them swayed and cracked.

"I´m so worried. I can´t stop crying. It´s the same nightmare as in 1985," Georgina Sanchez, 52, sobbed to AFP in a plaza in the capital.

Amamia Sanchez, a 45-year-old secretary cried out: "It´s just not possible that this happened also on September 19."

The quake -- which occurred in the early afternoon, hours after city authorities had conducted an earthquake drill -- caused damage in the bustling center of the city, and to areas south and west of the capital.

"We ran outside thinking all was going to collapse around us," said Lazaro Frutis, a 45-year-old who escaped an office building before it crumbled to the ground. "The worst thing is, we don´t know about our families or anything."
"It was horrible," said resident Leiza Visaj Herrera, 27. "I didn´t want to get close under any tree. I had to hold on to the ground."

Scenes of chaos permeated the city straight after the earth shuddered. Traffic jammed to a standstill before blanked-out stop lights, and anxious people ran between vehicles as ambulances tried to make headway, sirens squealing.

Emergency officials warned people in the streets to avoid smoking because of the risk of igniting gas leaking from ruptured pipes.

In several locations, people were seen clambering on buildings that were now piles of stone and tangled metal to pull people out.