Anxiety rises amid search for quake survivors

Rescuers worked on Thursday to save survivors after Mexico’s deadliest earthquake in 32 years, but the Navy said no children were now trapped at a school at the heart of rescue efforts.
Rescuers and firefighters raising their fists to pay their respects to a man who survived the quake but died before they could reach him during their search for survivors at a flattened building in Mexico City on Thursday.
Rescuers and firefighters raising their fists to pay their respects to a man who survived the quake but died before they could reach him during their search for survivors at a flattened building in Mexico City on Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Rescuers in Mexico rush to beat 72-hour survival window, with death toll likely to rise

MEXICO CITY • Anxiety mounted as Mexico approached the crucial 72-hour mark yesterday after an earthquake that killed nearly 300 people, with exhausted rescuers racing to reach possible survivors trapped in the rubble.

Anguished families watching and waiting at buildings that collapsed with their loved ones inside pleaded with the authorities not to send in the bulldozers while there is still hope that people could be alive inside - something the government vowed not to do.

"We know she's alive and we're not leaving until she leaves with us," said Ms Olinca Gonzalez, 29, whose relative worked in a building that was flattened in the 7.1-magnitude quake.

Families circulated fliers reading, "No heavy machinery". President Enrique Pena Nieto promised they were not giving up the search.

Experts say the average survival time in such disasters is 72 hours. But trapped survivors have been known to hang on for many days more, including after a massive quake that hit Mexico City in 1985, killing more than 10,000 people.

The authorities put the death toll from the quake at 286 people, but it was expected to rise further with scores still missing in Mexico City.

Volunteer rescuers working through their third straight night fought off growing fatigue to remove tonnes of rubble at dozens of flattened buildings in the capital and across several central states.

In the capital's central neighbourhood of Roma, rescue workers scrambled to locate 23 people believed to be in the wreckage of a collapsed seven-storey office building. They have already pulled 28 survivors from the mountain of rubble.

Rescuers and firefighters raising their fists to pay their respects to a man who survived the quake but died before they could reach him during their search for survivors at a flattened building in Mexico City on Thursday.
Rescuers and firefighters raising their fists to pay their respects to a man who survived the quake but died before they could reach him during their search for survivors at a flattened building in Mexico City on Thursday. PHOTO: AFP

At other locations, hope turned to grief.

"At 1pm, they pulled my mother's body out of the debris, but identified her under a different name, and it wasn't until 5pm that they gave us the bad news," said Ms Maria Dolores Martinez, 38, at a Mexico City morgue.

Relatives and neighbours laid wreaths near a flattened school on Thursday in memory of the dead, hugging each other in tears.

"Sad, painful. In these moments, you can't put into words what you're feeling after the loss of a loved one," said Mr Miguel Angel Ortiz, whose niece was killed.

But real stories of hope continued to emerge. In the north of the city, a man who had been trapped for 26 hours, and a 90-year-old woman were pulled alive from the rubble. Rescue teams have flown in from the US, Israel, Japan, Spain and many Latin American countries.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Anxiety rises amid search for quake survivors'. Print Edition | Subscribe