NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Local communities were gripped by panic and fear Wednesday as they awaited word about their loved ones in Mexico following Tuesday’s deadly 7.1 magnitude earthquake that devastated central parts of the country.

CBS2’s Cindy Hsu caught up with travelers at John F. Kennedy International Airport who had flown in from Mexico City after surviving the massive quake.

Jonathan Teller was still shaken up from the earthquake that hit his office building.

“Everything was shaking, the doors were shaking, the lights were shaking,” he told Hsu.

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His coworkers all got out safely.

“Fortunately, they had just actually had earthquake drills that morning around all of Mexico City,” he said.

While many people from the area have experience earthquakes, that wasn’t the case for Sarah Lee, who was in Mexico for work.

“Until I see the house beside me is about to collapse, Oh my god, then I realized that it was an earthquake,” she said.

Ramon Queveeo lives in Mexico City, and while he’s been through several earthquakes, he thought this was it.

“Well we thought that the building was going to collapse,” he said. “It was really bad. We thought we were going to die.”

Dr. Arturo Mesquite also lives in Mexico City and said the people back home are strong, and with every tragedy in the earthquake there are also stories of hope.

“The people there are so warm-hearted, and situations like this are when you really see the power of humanity,” he said.

Dr. Mesquite fractured his leg shortly before the earthquake two weeks ago and said he wishes he was home in Mexico right now to help out instead of traveling for work.

His friend Ani Tlatelpa has many friends from Mexico.

“It’s very heartbreaking watching the news,” she said. “We know that the people of Mexico are very strong and connected people. We just send our love and our prayers and our hearts and hugs out to them.”

Earlier in the day, CBS2’s Meg Baker spoke with people in Passaic, New Jersey, which is home to 35,000 residents originally from the state of Puebla, where the massive quake was centered. 

She heard from several store owners who made frantic calls back home, uncertain of the response they would get.

“Very, very sad,” Susanna Sanchez said.

Sanchez, who owns a bakery on Market Street, was thankful she was able to reach her family just a few hours after the earthquake. But their home was totally destroyed, and she doesn’t know what they’ll do next.

“We have heard that there has been approximately 42 deaths in the state of Puebla, mostly throughout the state structural damage,” said Anahi Gonzalez, who works around the block at Mi Casa es Puebla – an organization that represents the government of Puebla in the United States.

“People who have not been able to get through they can call here to the organization and see. We may not be able to get through to them also, but can at least get through and see how the general city is doing,” she said.

Nancy Alejo’s family owns a local café on Market Street.

“My cousin he was in the capital. He working while it happened. He was on top of a building,” she said. Thankfully nothing happened to him. He was able to get out.”

Gonzalez said many families have been coming into the organization to check in and offer prayers for the families affected by the tragedy.

“Impotencia — this feeling of not being able to do something. Seeing your friends and family members and your countrymen suffer and not being able to be there and help them physically,” she said, adding the organization is accepting donations.

There’s a large need for batteries, flashlights, bottled water and canned goods.

“Today, New Jersey sends our thoughts and prayers to the people of Puebla, Mexico in the aftermath of the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck there and to the more than 230,000 families in the Garden State who trace their roots to the town,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement Wednesday. “Three years ago, the people of Puebla graciously welcomed me to their beautiful, vibrant city. I know they are incredibly resilient and will rise above this tragedy.”