One of the most powerful earthquakes ever to hit Mexico was followed by a Gulf coast hurricane, dealing another blow to the country.

Soldiers work to remove the debris of a house destroyed in an earthquake that struck off the southern coast of Mexico late on Thursday, in Juchitan, Mexico, September 8, 2017.
Soldiers work to remove the debris of a house destroyed in an earthquake that struck off the southern coast of Mexico late on Thursday, in Juchitan, Mexico, September 8, 2017. (Reuters)

Police, soldiers and emergency workers raced to rescue survivors from the ruins of Mexico's most powerful earthquake in a century, which killed at least 61 people, as storm Katia menaced the country's east Saturday.

In the southern region hit hardest by the quake, emergency workers looked for survivors, or bodies, in the rubble of houses, churches and schools that were torn apart in the 8.1-magnitude quake.

President Enrique Pena Nieto said 45 people were killed in Oaxaca, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco. But the actual death toll could be over 80, according to figures reported by state officials.

Meanwhile storm Katia made landfall in the east as a Category One hurricane and hours later was downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (70 kilometers) per hour.

TRT World's Alasdair Baverstock reports.

The storm was bringing rains likely to cause "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain" the US National Hurricane Center said.

Katia was lashing the state of Veracruz, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, as well as parts of Hidalgo and Puebla. Forecasters were predicting the storm could unleash upwards of 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain in some areas.

Adding to the concerns, authorities warned another massive aftershock could follow within 24 hours of the first quake.

Pena Nieto toured the hardest-hit city, Juchitan in Oaxaca, where at least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins.

The city's eerily quiet streets were a maze of rubble, with roofs, cables, insulation and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.

The epicenter of the quake, which hit late Thursday, was in the Pacific Ocean, about 100 kilometers off the town of Tonala in Chiapas.

Mexico's seismology service estimated it at 8.2 magnitude while the US Geological Survey put it at 8.1 -- the same as in 1985, the quake-prone country's most destructive ever.

The quake was felt as far north as Mexico City -- some 800 kilometers from the epicenter -- where people fled their homes, many in their pajamas, after hearing sirens go off.

Officials initially issued a tsunami alert, but later lifted it. However, the quake triggered waves that reached as far as New Zealand, more than 11,000 kilometers away.

Authorities said small tsunami waves of up to 40 centimeters were recorded on the far-flung Chatham Islands, with 25 centimeter surges on the New Zealand coast, some 15 hours after the quake.

Mexico sits atop five tectonic plates, making it prone to earthquakes, and has two long coastlines that are frequently battered by hurricanes.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies