The magnitude-7.4 earthquake that struck Guatemala on Wednesday spurred widespread panic and is being blamed for three deaths.

The powerful temblor's epicenter was offshore, 24 kilometers (14 miles) south of the Pacific coast town of Champerico, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The quake, which occurred at 10:35 a.m. (1635 GMT), cut telecommunications on the national level and put emergency authorities on alert, whereupon they mobilized to deal with the multiple emergency calls they immediately began receiving.

Thousands of people fled into the streets to avoid being trapped in collapsing buildings during the quake, and workers in public buildings were evacuated to get them to safety.

At least 40 houses collapsed in the northwestern town of San Pedro Sacatepequez and at least three people died there, first responders said.

The earthquake was also felt in parts of neighboring Mexico and El Salvador.

Nicaragua's Sinapred emergency management agency alerted communities on the country's Pacific coast to the possibility of a tsunami after the massive quake. EFE