PUEBLA, Mexico (AP) _ An earthquake destroyed homes, toppled church towers and damaged other colonial-era buildings in central Mexico, killing at least 15 people and injuring hundreds.

President Ernesto Zedillo declared the state of Puebla a disaster area after the magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck Tuesday afternoon.

``It felt very strong. It was a jumping movement,'' said Raimundo Villas, 20, an industrial engineer, who described how a chunk of falling cornice crushed one man in the city of Puebla, 60 miles east of Mexico City.

Mexico's National Seismological Service said the earthquake was centered near Huajuapan de Leon, 80 miles south of Puebla. The U.S. Geological Survey calculated the epicenter at 70 miles southeast of here, near the city of Tehuacan.

``I believe we have been relatively lucky, although we always must regret losses,'' Zedillo told reporters late Tuesday outside the San Agustin church in Puebla. The church's tower collapsed in the quake.

Mexico City, where two people died, had relatively little damage, but tall buildings swayed with the quake, sending tens of thousands of panicked people into the streets. Telephone service and power were disrupted in some areas.

Puebla state Gov. Melquiades Morales Flores told reporters that at least 11 people died in the state. Veracruz state officials said a workman was killed in a rockslide in Huatuzco. One person was killed in the western state of Guerrero, the Interior Ministry reported.

The quake took a heavy toll on the colonial-era buildings for which Puebla, a city of 1.2 million people, is famed. While most basic structures stood up well, cupolas, towers and cornices often cracked, and some crashed to the ground.

But modern buildings also were damaged. In a block of three four-story apartment buildings, one collapsed completely, the bottom two floors collapsed in another, while the third was only cracked. Soldiers said they pulled residents from the wreckage and no one was killed or injured.

Hundreds of troops patrolled streets strewn with rubble and glass early today, helping in rescue and cleanup.

Some residents took matters into their own hands Tuesday. Outside the La Soledad church, with a cracked and leaning 100-foot-high bell tower, residents roped off the street to block traffic.

``Heavy trucks pass, and the way they shake, they are going to send this bell tower down onto the houses,'' said Rodolfo Hernandez, a 33-year-old mechanic tending to the ropes under a driving rain.

On the city's main square, a backhoe roared in and out of the centuries-old city hall late Tuesday, filling trucks with debris from interior ceilings that collapsed. Four people were rescued from the building.

``We believe, we hope that there is no one in there,'' said city manager Pericles Olivares, who walked through the streets inspecting damage.

A few blocks away, peering up at a wide crack that snaked through a 10-story concrete office building, Olivares ordered the entire city block evacuated.

Dr. Alejandro Soto, director of the Puebla Red Cross, said 200 people suffered at least minor injuries and 10 were seriously hurt.

Hector Gonzalez, civil defense director of Huajuapan de Leon, a city of 200,000 people, said the quake knocked out electricity and telephone service, but no injuries or major damage was reported.

In Cuernavaca, 35 miles south of Mexico City, the cupola of the 16th century cathedral partially collapsed, but officials reported no injuries.

In Teposcolula, the city hall partially collapsed, two houses fell and the main church was damaged, according to Sergio Hampshire, the civil defense director for Oaxaca state. There were no reports of injuries.

Mexico's largest recent earthquake, on Sept. 19, 1985, was recorded at magnitude 8.1 and killed more than 6,000 people.