By Carmen Pena (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — Wearing improvised masks, motorcycle helmets and using picks and shovels, hundreds of people in Mexico City formed human chains along buildings that had crumbled down after the earthquake, in an attempt to try and help remove rubble and rescue victims, even during the night.
“We need water and medicine. Bottles of water, please!” several young people shouted. Using the light of torches and reflectors, volunteers and rescue teams searched among stones and bricks for possible survivors in the dozens of collapsed buildings that were recorded in the capital.
Volunteers are mostly neighbors and people who used to frequent these affected places and who decided to lend a helping hand. So as to collaborate with rescue teams and paramedics, people from surrounding areas are providing food, water and work materials.
As of Wednesday morning, least 217 people have died, reported the Civil Protection’s national coordinator, Luis Felipe Puente.
There were 86 fatalities in Mexico City, 71 in the state of Morelos, 43 in Puebla, 12 in Mexico State, 4 in Guerrero and 1 in Oaxaca, Puente stated on Twitter. This figure increases by the hour.
The epicenter of the 7.1 earthquake which shook the country on Tuesday, in the early afternoon, was at least 80 miles away from the south of Mexico City.
Many people are still missing, people trapped in the rubble, some people are giving updates on their situation via SMS, including children trapped under rubble from a collapsed school. Homes, stores and schools were reduced to rubble.
“Is there a doctor? We need a doctor in the southern region,” said a member from the Civil Protection Service on Alvaro Obregon Street, where an office and apartment building collapsed. A group of women and men wearing white coats, from a dentist clinic nearby, went over.
Ever since the afternoon and throughout Tuesday night, people in this area, located in the Condesa colony (neighborhood), took bottles of water, bandages, medicines and tools. On Amsterdam Street, also within this colony, lines formed so that people could pass aid materials and the rubble they were taking out to each other, hand-to-hand.
In the city’s south side, a school collapsed and more than 20 children died. Rescue teams worked throughout the night in order to get to those who are still trapped. Shouts and cries mixed with ambulance and firemen sirens.
The civic response was immediate. Organized into groups and without anyone asking them to, not only did they gather supplies and help in rescue missions, but they also helped in evacuating homes and stores.
Some people even helped traffic police to clear the roads, when so many vehicles as well as people were trying to get one from place to another during the chaos.
“In the middle of this great tragedy, it’s good to see how we Mexicans get back up and show our solidarity.” 34-year-old Angelo Martin said, who still wearing a shirt and jacket was carrying a couple of liters of water. “It’s important to help. This gives us hope.”
During the afternoon, rows of people moved from the south to the north of the city, and vice-versa, with suitcases, pets and bags in hand, some people looking to get home, others leaving their homes behind to go to a safer place.
Confusion, fear and chaos took over the Mexican capital for a few hours after the earthquake, which hit the center of a country which is still trying to recover from an 8.2 earthquake that hit farther away two weeks ago.
“There weren’t any alerts. The earthquake alarm went off after everything shook and it’s ironic because an earthquake drill took place just a few moments beforehand,” Adaly Serrano, a 20-year-old woman who had just set up a fruit stall when the tremor hit, told dpa.
The trial alarm went off like it does every September 19th, on the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake, which caused serious damage to Mexico City and more than 10,000 deaths.
Gas leaks, fires, electricity cuts and damage to structures forced authorities to evacuate several buildings. Many people had to stay in hostels or they preferred to sleep on the street in fear of their being aftershocks. With sleeping bags, blankets and small suitcases, they decided to camp in some streets and parks.
Local and municipal authorities set up centers and shelters in several places for people who had been left homeless or were afraid of staying at home in case of there being damage.
“This earthquake is a hard and very painful test for our country, but we Mexicans have learned to respond with duty and spirit of solidarity,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a message near midnight. “We continue on united to take on this challenge.”
Many buildings within the most affected area by Tuesday’s earthquake in Mexico City were built before building regulations in the city were hardened as a result of the 1985 Great Earthquake.
“We continue to keep a series of buildings that were built before this time,” Luis Felipe Puente, the national director of the Civil Protection Service, said in an interview with the night news program “En Punto” on the Televisa channel.