Mexico rocked by 7.1-magnitude earthquake on anniversary of deadly 1985 quake
Wednesday - 20/09/2017 09:48
FRANTIC search and rescue efforts are under way in Mexico after a devastating 7.1-magnitude earthquake that flattened buildings, including a school.
POLICE, firefighters and ordinary Mexicans dug frantically through the rubble of collapsed schools, homes and apartment buildings early Wednesday, looking for survivors of Mexico’s deadliest earthquake in decades as the number of confirmed fatalities stood at 217.
Adding poignancy and a touch of the surreal, Tuesday’s magnitude-7.1 quake struck on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 earthquake that killed thousands. Just hours earlier, people around Mexico had held earthquake drills to mark the date.
One of the most desperate rescue efforts was at a primary and secondary school in southern Mexico City, where a wing of the three-storey building collapsed into a massive pancake of concrete slabs. Journalists saw rescuers pull at least two small bodies from the rubble, covered in sheets.
Volunteer rescue worker Dr. Pedro Serrano managed to crawl into the crevices of the tottering pile of rubble that had been Escuela Enrique Rebsamen. He made it into a classroom, but found all of its occupants dead.
“We saw some chairs and wooden tables. The next thing we saw was a leg, and then we started to move rubble and we found a girl and two adults — a woman and a man,” he said.
“We can hear small noises, but we don’t know if they’re coming from above or below, from the walls above (crumbling), or someone below calling for help.”
A mix of neighbourhood volunteers, police and firefighters used trained dogs and their bare hands to search through the school’s rubble.
The crowd of anxious parents outside the gates shared reports that two families had received Whatsapp messages from girls trapped inside, but that could not be confirmed.
Rescuers brought in wooden beams to shore up the fallen concrete slabs so they wouldn’t collapse further and crush whatever airspaces remained.
The federal Education Department reported late Tuesday that 25 bodies had been recovered from the school’s wreckage, all but four of them children.
It was not clear whether those deaths were included in the overall death toll of 217 reported by the federal civil defence agency.
In a video message released late Tuesday, Pena Nieto urged people to be calm and said authorities were moving to provide help as 40 per cent of Mexico City and 60 per cent of nearby Morelos state were without power. But, he said, “the priority at this moment is to keep rescuing people who are still trapped and to give medical attention to the injured people.” People across central Mexico already had rallied to help their neighbours as dozens of buildings tumbled into mounds of rubble. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 sites in the capital alone as high-rises across the city swayed and twisted and hundreds of thousands of panicked people ran into the streets.
Dust-covered and exhausted from digging, 30-year-old Carlos Mendoza said two people were pulled alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building in the Roma Sur neighbourhood during a three-hour period.
“When we saw this, we came to help,” he said, gesturing at the destruction. “This is ugly, very ugly.” Blocks away, Alma Gonzalez was in her fourth-floor apartment when the quake collapsed the ground floor of her building, leaving her no way out. She was terrified until her neighbours mounted a ladder on their roof and helped her slide out a side window.
The national Civil Defense agency reported early Wednesday that the confirmed death toll stood at 248, more than half of them in the capital.
The official Twitter feed of agency head Luis Felipe Puente said 86 dead had been counted in Mexico City and 71 in Morelos state, which is just south of the capital. It said 43 were known dead in Puebla state, where the quake was centred.
Twelve deaths were listed in the State of Mexico, which surrounds Mexico City on three sides, four in Guerrero state and one in Oaxaca.
At the site of a collapsed apartment building in Mexico City, rescuers worked atop a three-storey pile of rubble, forming a human chain that passed pieces of rubble across four city blocks to a site where they were dumped.
Throughout the day, rescuers pulled dust-covered people, some barely conscious, some seriously injured, from about three dozen collapsed buildings. At one site, shopping carts commandeered from a nearby supermarket were used to carry water to the rescue site and take rubble away.
Australian tourist Adam Williams, 39, was working on his computer on the 10th floor of the Sheraton hotel in Mexico City when “the room started shaking”.
“I heard this rumbling noise and thought it was bad music at first. Then the room started shaking and then swaying really severely,” the Brisbane native, who lives in San Francisco but travelled to Mexico to renew his E3 visa, told News Corp Australia.
In the aftermath of the disaster, people used shopping carts from a nearby supermarket to carry away rubble in a Mexico City neighbourhood where three apartment buildings collapsed on the same stretch of street.
Valerie Perez, a 23-year-old student from Venezuela, ran from her fourth-floor apartment just in time to see the building in front of it collapse. With only a month in Mexico, she was stunned by the day’s events.
“A drill at 11am and an earthquake at 1pm,” she said. “This is the most powerful thing I have ever seen in my life.”
Rescue workers rushed to the site of damaged or collapsed buildings in the capital, and reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble.
Rescuers immediately called for silence so that they could listen for others who might be trapped.
Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, 26, was one many who spontaneously participated in rescue efforts. She says she joined the efforts after seeing a building collapsing in a cloud of dust before her eyes.
Morales says she was in a taxi when the quake struck Tuesday and she got out and sat on the sidewalk to recover from the scare. As she sat there the building tumbled a few meters away from her.
“There was the sound of thunder ... then dust and all this,” Morales said. “The people are organising quickly,” she said.
She wore a paper face mask and her hands were still dusty from having joined a rescue brigade to clear rubble from a building that fell in a cloud of dust before her eyes, about 15 minutes after the quake.
As night began to fall, huge flood lights lit up the recovery sites, but workers and volunteers begged for headlamps.
Where a six-story office building collapsed in Mexico City, sisters Cristina and Victoria Lopez Torres formed part of a human chain passing bottled water. “I think it’s human nature that drives everyone to come and help others,” Cristina Lopez said.
“We are young. We didn’t live through 85. But we know that it’s important to come out into the streets to help,” said her sister Victoria. Ricardo Ibarra, 48, did live through the 1985 quake and said there hadn’t been anything like it since.
Wearing a bright orange vest and carrying a backpack with a sleeping bag strapped to it, he said he and his friends just wanted to help. “People are very sensitive because today was the 32nd anniversary of a tragedy,” he said.
Buildings also collapsed in Morelos state, including the town hall and local church in Jojutla near the quake’s epicentre. A dozen people died in Jojutla. The town’s Instituto Morelos secondary school partly collapsed, but school director Adelina Anzures said the earthquake drill held in the morning came in handy.
“I told them that it was not a game, that we should be prepared,” Anzures said of the drill. When the quake came, she said, children and teachers rapidly filed out and nobody was hurt.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 quake hit at 1:14pm (2:15pm. EDT) and was centred near the Puebla state town of Raboso, 76 miles (123 kilometres) southeast of Mexico City.
Much of Mexico City is built on former lake bed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centred hundreds of miles away.
The quake appeared to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico’s southern coast and also was felt strongly in the capital. U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted the epicentres of the two quakes were 400 miles (650 kilometres) apart and said most aftershocks are within (60 miles) 100 kilometres.
Tuesday’s quake comes less than two weeks after Mexico was hit by a 8.2-magnitude tremor, felt as far away as Austin, Texas, and followed 30 minutes later by a 6-magnitude aftershock. Around 100 people were killed.
Much of Mexico City is built on former lake bed, and the soil is known to amplify the effects of earthquakes even hundreds of kilometres away.