A baptism in Mexico's Puebla state turned into a tragedy when the roof of a church collapsed during an earthquake, killing 11 members of a family.

The tragedy took place as a violent 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck central Mexico on Tuesday (19 September), killing at least 230 people and destroying several buildings. The death toll is expected to rise, and search and rescue operations are ongoing.

The only people who survived the collapse of the Santiago the Apostle Catholic Church were the father of the three-month-old child who was being baptised, the priest and his assistant.

The death toll was among the highest number of casualties in a single venue, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"It was a scene of horror, sadness with most of the people inside the church dying," the priest's assistant, Lorenzo Sanchez, told AP.

He explained that the survivors did not die because they had time to move to the edges of the building.

"One of the things they taught us is to stick to the firm walls of our church, which is old and its structure a bit deteriorated," he said.

When the quake subsided, people called for help using loudspeakers. Nearby inhabitants rushed to the scene and started digging through the rubble, hoping to find people who were still alive.

However, they only recovered eleven bodies, which were laid on the same street where a party was supposed to take place following the baptism.

A mass funeral was held on Wednesday under a red-and-white tarp where grieveing families and members of the community gathered, still in shock.

"I am in profound pain. I am shattered. I don't know what to say," Graciano Villanueva Perez, 73, told the Los Angeles Times. Perez lost six relatives, his wife, sister, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, all of whom were attending the baptism. He was at home resting when the quake hit.

Another relative, who also lost six family members including his wife and his mother, said the quake was the strongest to hit Mexico in recent times.

"I've been through other earthquakes, but never this strong," said Flores Nolasco, 42. He was returning from his fields when the quake struck. "We had to get down from the bikes and wait for the shaking to end," he explained.

Mexico City earthquake
Rescuers work in the rubbleRafael S. Fabres/Getty Images

The majority of the earthquake's victims died in the capital, Mexico City. At least 25 people, the majority of whom were children, died when a three-storey school building collapsed during the quake. All but four of the bodies were of children.

President Enrique Peña Nieto declared three days of national mourning and visited some of the areas affected.

The devastating quake took place as people marked the 32nd anniversary of the country's deadliest tremor, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake that killed nearly 10,000 people in the capital in 1985.

The country held its annual earthquake drill just two hours before the tremor struck.

This year, five states had opted not to take part in the drill to pay respect to those who were still recovering from an 8.1 magnitude earthquake that struck off the country's southern coast on 7 September.

That quake killed dozens of people, triggered tsunamis, and sent shockwaves as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City.

Mexico City earthquake
Rescuers rise their clenched fists asking for silence to be able to hear the voices of possible survivors buried under the rubbleRaul Arboleda/AFP