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Mexicans pull together to overcome devastating earthquake


Ronaldo Schmeidt | AFP

John Burger - published on 09/20/17 - updated on 09/20/17

Residents of the capital city, accustomed to keeping to themselves, join in solidarity to help the afflicted

Before Tuesday’s earthquake struck Mexico City and several surrounding states, residents of the capital were showing a trend of being more and more closed in on themselves. Due in part to increasing concerns about crime in the city and in the country, Mexicans were feeling less and less secure, not as friendly as Mexicans once were, and less apt to be open to anyone, especially strangers.

With the devastating quake on Tuesday, which brought down scores of buildings in the capital and claimed hundreds of lives, including many children, all that has changed.

“All of a sudden, people are coming from all over to help, expressing their solidarity. It seems like they’ve forgotten about their insecurity,” a member of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies, Edith Martinez Guzman, said in an interview Tuesday night.

Martinez described how she and other members of the Chamber, the lower house in Mexico’s federal legislature, were quickly evacuated from a session in the Saint Lazarus Legislative Palace Tuesday afternoon shortly after 1 o’clock, when the earthquake struck.

She said that the response to the tragedy has brought out the best in Mexicans’ human side. “It’s been a very humanitarian response,” she said. “Help is coming from everywhere, from both the government and the people.”

The collapse of 44 buildings in the capital, including many apartment buildings, and the fear people have of going into other buildings for the time being, has meant that many people are suddenly on the street. That has elicited a generous response, Martinez observed. Amid the din and confusion in the hours after the quake struck, one could also hear people calling out: “I can bring two people to my house, I can take three people,” she reported.

For Martinez, the natural disaster has been a reminder of a stark reality: “We are here today, but we can leave at any moment, so we have to be prepared.”

The national death toll by Wednesday morning stood at 225, including 94 in Mexico City, according to the director of Mexico’s civil protection agency, Luis Felipe Puente. Rescuers continued to dig out people trapped under rubble.

NBC News reported that 25 bodies had been pulled from the Colegio Enrique Rebsamen in the capital—21 of them children:

Crews wearing hard hats worked their way through pancaked concrete slabs as family members and teachers searched lists of children to see who was accounted for. Dr. Pedro Serrano, one of the volunteers, told The Associated Press that he managed to crawl into the crevices of the tottering pile of rubble and made it into a classroom, but found all of its occupants dead. “We saw some chairs and wooden tables,” he said. “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.”

The New York Times described a heartbreaking scene at the site of the school Tuesday night:

Hundreds of volunteers clamored to unearth children they hoped were still alive beneath the structure’s ruins. Dozens of workers carting megaphones called out contradictory instructions, while others yelled for resources like batteries, flashlights and diesel fuel. Volunteers kept lists of every dead child’s name that was confirmed by the rescuers as they emerged from the wreckage. Frenzied parents paced the scene, wondering about the fates of their sons and daughters or screaming in agony upon seeing their bodies.

By Tuesday afternoon, the number of children found dead had risen to 30. Eleven people were rescued alive from the school.

The Telegraph reported that as the earthquake hit Mexico City, the Popocatepetl volcano, 43 miles southeast of the capital, had a small eruption. On its slopes, a church in Atzitzihuacan collapsed during Mass, killing 15 people, Puebla Governor Jose Antonio Gali said.

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