The Sep. 30, 1985, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: NOVEDADES / SIPA
By Aric Jenkins
Updated: September 21, 2017 2:52 PM ET | Originally published: September 19, 2017

The earthquake that struck Mexico City on Tuesday hit on the same exact calendar date on which the capital was hit by a violent earthquake in 1985. The earlier quake left behind a trail of rubble and about 10,000 people dead.

The coincidence is eerie, and sympathizers around the world will surely hope that the similarity stops with the identical Sept. 19 date. While Tuesday’s 7.1. magnitude quake falls short of 1985’s 8.0 magnitude tremor, it still classifies as a “major” earthquake on the Richter scale. Videos shared on social media reveal crumbling structures and smoke rising over the city due to fallen debris. The full extent of the damage remains to be seen.

In 1985, TIME featured a story about the deadly quake on its cover. The piece, titled “A Noise Like Thunder,” captured why earthquakes in Mexico City can be so particularly dangerous:

In striking the Mexican capital, the killer quake could not have chosen a more vulnerable target. Mexico City is at the heart of the world’s most populous metropolitan area. Some 18 million people, a fourth of the nation’s inhabitants, are jammed into a mere 890 sq. mi., or roughly 1% of the predominantly rural country’s land area. By one estimate, nearly a third of all families in Mexico City huddle together in a single room — and the average family has five members.

Beyond the human density, the capital has a shaky geological base that makes it especially susceptible to earthquakes. Mexico City is built on the soft, moist sediment of an ancient lake bed; when jolted, says Caltech Earthquake Expert George W. Housner, it reacts “like a bowl of jelly.” The city has, in fact, been sinking into its soft base at up to 10 in. annually. The drop has been uneven, creating a tilt in some foundations, thus placing those buildings at greater peril than others when the earth begins to rumble.

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The story’s writer, Ed Magnuson, was also able to draw on the frightening experience of TIME reporter Andrea Dabrowski, who “was pouring coffee in the kitchen of her apartment in the center of the capital” at the moment the devastating earthquake struck:

“I thought I was sick,” she said. “There was this terrible dizzy feeling. Some way, I stumbled to the doorway. The buildings across the street were swaying, really swaying. It was like being rocked in a boat. There were all these sounds of cracking and crackling, and the electric lines popping. I yelled out, ‘God save me!’ ” The quake knocked many of the city’s radio and television stations off the air. One exception was Channel 13, which provided the world with the first images of the disaster. A young man who did not give his name tearfully told a Channel 13 interviewer that he heard “a tremendous noise, and I grabbed my daughter and jumped out the window of my apartment. Everything was being twisted. I was trapped in the ruins with my daughter, but we were rescued. I had no chance to help my wife, who was killed when she was buried by the rubble.”

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