A ceremony is held in Mexico City, capital of Mexico, on Sept. 19, 2016 to mark the 31st anniversary of the 1985 8.1-magnitude earthquake killing thousands of people. (Xinhua/Str)
MEXICO CITY, Sept. 19 (Xinhua) -- Mexico City on Monday marked the 31st anniversary of the deadly 8.1-magnitude earthquake that destroyed much of the downtown area on Sept. 19, 1985, killing thousands.
At 11 a.m., the citywide earthquake alarm system was sounded across some 8,200 speakers as part of a planned drill to test evacuation procedures at schools, hospitals and in tall buildings, mainly those occupied by government agencies.
On the city's main central plaza, the Zocalo, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong raised the national flag to half mast at exactly 7:19 a.m., the hour the quake struck.
Osorio Chong, standing in for Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is in New York for the United Nations General Assemly, was accompanied by the ministers of National Defense and the Navy, as well as the head of the Civil Protection agency.
At the same time, in a different part of the downtown area, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera placed a floral wreath in honor of the victims at the site of the former Regis Hotel, which collapsed in a pile of rubble during the quake.
The lot where the hotel once stood is today called Solidarity Plaza, in tribute to city residents who largely led the recovery efforts after overwhelmed local and federal agencies failed to immediately respond to the disaster.
"How can anyone forget that day!" Mexico City resident Martha, 70, said as she took part in an earthquake drill.
"It was very painful for Mexicans, and since then I'm always scared when it quakes," she said.
The devastating quake, epicentered off Mexico's Pacific Coast, also caused damage in the states of Michoacan, Guerrero, Colima and Jalisco.
More than three decades later, the exact death toll is still a matter of dispute. The official government figure stands at 5,000, the number of bodies recovered from toppled buildings and identified. But many more victims went missing and were never recovered, leading others to estimate the actual death toll to be as high as between 30,000 and 45,000.
A 7.9-magnitude aftershock hit later the following day.
Today, the city is much better prepared to deal with a similar event. The alarm system is designed to provide residents with a 50- to 60-second warning before a quake hits to turn off dangerous machinery and take cover.