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Reporter: Quake panics residents

Mexican authorities are still assessing the damage from Tuesday's powerful earthquake.
Mexican authorities are still assessing the damage from Tuesday's powerful earthquake.

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MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Mexican authorities said they may not know the full extent of the damage from a powerful earthquake in the state of Colima until late Wednesday.

At least 23 people were killed and 160 others injured when the magnitude 7.8 quake struck the state in west-central Mexico Tuesday night. The tremor was even felt in Mexico City, more than 300 miles away. Gretchen Peters of The Christian Science Monitor spoke by phone with CNN's Leon Harris about the disaster.

HARRIS: Gretchen, can you describe exactly what happened, and where were you when it happened?

PETERS: I was here in Mexico City at home. The earthquake was felt quite strongly here in the city, which is built, as you may know, on an ancient lake bed, making the subsurface here quite unstable.

However, there has been no serious damage reported here. A lot of people spent the night on the streets, refused to go back into their homes, but that was seen more as sort of a panic reaction, because the city has been hit by so many really serious quakes, including one in 1985 that killed some 10,000 people here.

HARRIS: And, Gretchen, obviously as dangerous as an earthquake is, nothing can be more dangerous than when it happens at night. What time did this one hit? As I understand it, it happened sometime during the middle of the night.

PETERS: This one hit at ... exactly 8:06 p.m. local time, so a lot of people were home from work. Probably a lot of people were in commute. ... The largest casualty reports we have are from [Colima], the capital city of Colima [state], ... where the epicenter of the quake was located. Mexican authorities have declared a state of emergency there because several residential buildings and office buildings crumbled in the center of the capital city there, and authorities fear more people may be trapped inside the rubble, and that the death toll will rise over the course of the day as they sift through the remains of the buildings.

HARRIS: Well, how big a town is Colima? As I understand it, isn't the area mostly agricultural?

PETERS: The state of Colima is quite agricultural. The capital city has between 125,000 and 150,000 depending on the time of the year, but the authorities are trying to fan out around -- in small villages around Colima that have been affected. ... Those efforts have been hampered in part because of damage to bridges and highways connecting them to those towns because of the earthquake.

HARRIS: Well, actually then if that's the case, ... 23 deaths is actually quite a low number, considering the fact this could be a lot worse, then.

PETERS: In fact, Mexican authorities are saying they're quite amazed that the casualties appear to be so low at this point. They do expect them to rise, but they say, well, I guess every cloud has a silver lining. This may be that for this earthquake, because previous earthquakes of this magnitude in Mexico have killed hundreds.

HARRIS: Well, here's hoping that silver lining gets even bigger and more pronounced there. Thank you, Gretchen Peters, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Take care.

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