Families mourn the dead, sift wreckage after huge Mexico quake

A man walks among the debris of a house destroyed in an earthquake that struck off the southern coast of Mexico, in Juchitan, on Sept 8, 2017.
A man walks among the debris of a house destroyed in an earthquake that struck off the southern coast of Mexico, in Juchitan, on Sept 8, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

JUCHITÁN DE ZARAGOZA, Mexico (AFP) - Families followed coffins through the streets, sobbing and wailing, and picked nervously at the ruins of their homes in southern Mexico after the country's biggest earthquake in a century killed at least 90 people.

"I don't know if I am crying from sadness, from shock, or from fear of what might happen next, and how we will live," Re fugio Portales said on Sunday (Sept 10) in the hard-hit town of Juchitan.

She followed the white coffin of a friend as it was transported on the back of a truck to the shrill sound of pipes.

Mexican seismological authorities measured Thursday night's quake at magnitude 8.2 - bigger even than the 8.1 quake that killed 10,000 people in Mexico City in 1985.

FEARING AFTERSHOCKS

People in Juchitan were afraid to return to their homes, fearing the effects of hundreds of aftershocks - but camped within sight of them to prevent looting.

Juana Luis, 40, spent the night with her family under a tree in the garden next to their house, which was reduced to a pile of concrete rubble, twisted metal and electrical cables.

Her family's furniture, clothes and the children's toys all lay covered in rubble and dust.

"It is very sad to live like this, on hammocks hung in the garden, under the rain, with our belongings buried in the house," she told Agence France-Presse (AFP) news agency.

Luis went out for emergency food handouts from the authorities and managed to get a box of beans, rice and other essentials.

Food prices have soared in the disaster zone since the quake struck.

"That makes me really anxious, because however much I want to buy biscuits for my children when they ask me, I can't," she said in tears.

As soldiers and mechanical diggers worked to clear the ruins of the town hall, families camped out in the open. Some picked cautiously through the rubble to salvage household items.

"We are afraid to go inside our houses to remove the rubble, but we have no other choice because no one is coming to help us," said retiree Carlos Villalobos Martinez, 58.

He said he escaped "by a miracle" with his wife and three children when their house collapsed.

On the square near the town's Martes Santo church, a group of women camped in the rain, cooked eggs on a fire and prepared corn tortillas.

"We still have no water or electricity. We are sleeping with the children out here in the open," said one of them, Maria de los Angeles Orozco. "No one has come to help us."

The authorities put the overall toll from Thursday night's quake at 65, all in the states of Oaxaca, Tabasco and Chiapas. The federal government said it was investigating claims by an official in Oaxaca that 25 more people had been found dead there.

"We still have to confirm that," federal urban development secretary Rosario Robles said on television channel Milenio.

Rescuers were still searching for victims in remote, mountainous districts that are home to isolated communities.

'TITANIC TASK'

Sobbing relatives marched behind their loved ones' coffins as the first funerals were held for those killed in Juchitan, largely inhabited by indigenous Zapotec people.

Like Portales, local doctor Cristian Juarez, 46, was mourning his grandmother Manuela Villalobos, 85, who died when her house collapsed on her as she slept.

"She was a very strong woman. She made sure the younger generations were aware of Zapotec traditions, like the funeral rites," he told AFP.

Rescuers arrived in Juchitan from around the country to help clear up, hand out food and aid the sick.

Dressed in orange overalls and a helmet with a torch, Miguel Angel Nava, a member of a volunteer rescue group, joined in a human chain passing belongings out of a ruined house.

"It is no longer a case of searching for people. It is about supporting the community," he said, wiping the sweat from his face.

"It is a titanic task - it was a quake as bad as the 1985 one. But by joining forces we can do it."