Many join search for trapped survivors

Video on social media shows panic on the streets as a powerful earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck central Mexico.

MEXICO CITY • When the earthquake hit, it sent panicked people running into the street, but many were not so lucky. The dust settled minutes later to reveal a landscape of flattened buildings and rubble in the heart of Mexico City.

"Awful. I think it was one of the strongest we have felt. I don't know what magnitude, but it was awful," public servant Pedro Cruz Martinez said as he cradled his little girl, after joining the rush of fearful parents to a local school.

After the screams and the shock of Tuesday's disaster, people quickly set to work digging for survivors. In a scene reproduced in streets across the city centre, dozens of people used their bare hands to remove rubble from a building as they waited for specialised machinery to arrive.

Several buildings were completely flattened in Roma Condesa, popular for its bars and restaurants and one of the neighbourhoods hit hardest by the 1985 earthquake that shattered large swathes of this city and killed at least 10,000 people - 32 years ago to the day.

Amid the tears and terror, there were small victories.

Cheers and applause echoed around the crowded Calle Alvaro Obregon in Roma as rescuers managed to pull someone from under the rubble.

 

There remained a sense that such moments would be rare, however.

At other buildings in the same area, volunteers joined police and paramedics to remove debris. One of them held a sign with the word "silence", in order to be able to listen for signs of life beneath the rubble.

"When you see these types of problems, you have no choice but to come and help," said Mr Francisco Javier Aguilar, a 43-year-old industrial waste worker who came from 40 minutes away to volunteer at a collapsed six-storey building in the Condesa neighbourhood. Clad in an orange reflective vest and wearing a white surgical mask, he and six relatives came to carry water and medicine, he said.

Medics set up makeshift field hospitals in the streets, treating people for broken limbs and crush injuries. Many lay on stretchers, with medics holding strips of cardboard boxes over their heads to shield them from the sun.

"Darling, if you want to help, go ahead. Just give me your glasses and be careful," a woman told her doctor husband as they gazed at buildings reduced to rubble, the intimacy of people's homes laid bare as curtains swayed in buildings without walls.

Mr Eric Bautista, a public accountant for Siemens Gamesa, wore a blue mask and was directing the volunteers. He has no experience in earthquake rescue. But, he said: "I found out on Twitter this was happening, and I came right over."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2017, with the headline 'Many join search for trapped survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe