Watch: Mexico earthquake causes desert 'tsunami' in California's Death Valley

An earthquake this week in Mexico made waves over 1,700 miles away in a cave located in California’s Death Valley, officials said.

The magnitude 7.6 earthquake was reported at 1:05 p.m. local time Monday along Mexico's central Pacific coast, near the boundary of Colima and Michoacan states, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey. At least one person was killed, and buildings were damaged near the quake’s epicenter. 

At the time of the earthquake, officials with the National Park Service were conducting research at Death Valley’s Devils Hole in California and "witnessed the effects firsthand." Devils Hole is a water-filled cavern cut into the side of a hill that’s more than 500 feet deep, officials say. It’s also home to the only naturally occurring population of the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish.

"Within five minutes, the normally still water in the pool began slowly moving, and soon built to waves several feet high," Death Valley National Park said in a Facebook post, alongside a video showing what it refers to as a "tsunami in the desert." 

National Park Service officials say Devils Hole is an "unusual indicator" of seismic activity around the world, noting how large earthquakes as far away as Japan, Indonesia, and Chile have caused the water to "slosh" in the cavern. 

"The highly endangered Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) has thankfully evolved with these types of periodic natural disturbances, and they were fine and swimming (happily?) afterward," Death Valley National Park wrote in the Facebook post. "Keeping with previous observations, staff expect to see an increase in spawning activity over the next few days, hopefully resulting in even more recruits into the population."

desert tsunami

A screengrab from a video shared by the Death Valley National Park Service shows the normally-still water forming waves after an earthquake in Mexico on Sept. 19, 2022. (Credit: NPS/ A. Chaudoin)

After Mexico’s earthquake, which occurred on the anniversary of two earlier devastating quakes, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said via Twitter one person was killed in the port city of Manzanillo, Colima when a wall at a mall collapsed.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center said that hazardous tsunami waves were possible for coasts within 186 miles of the epicenter.

Major quakes struck on the same date in 1985 and 2017. The magnitude 8.0 quake centered near the coast of Guerrero state in 1985 killed at least 9,500 people. More than 360 people died in the magnitude 7.1 quake that struck in 2017.

"This is a coincidence" that this is the third Sept. 19 earthquake, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle. "There’s no physical reason or statistical bias toward earthquakes in any given month in Mexico."

Nor is there a season or month for big earthquakes anywhere on the globe, Earle said. But there is a predictable thing: People seek and sometimes find coincidences that look like patterns.

"We knew we’d get this question as soon as it happened," Earle said. "Sometimes there are just coincidences."

Early Thursday morning, the already jittery country was hit by another powerful magnitude 6.8 earthquake, causing at least two deaths, damaging buildings, and setting off landslides, Mexican officials said.

The earthquake struck at 1:19 a.m. local time, centered 31 miles south-southwest of Aguililla, Michoacan — near the epicenter of Monday’s quake. 

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.