Mexico rescuers in race to find trapped survivors 48 hours after quake

Rescuers lower a sniffer dog to help them search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City. PHOTO: AFP
Parents await word as rescue services and volunteers search for their children under the debris of collapsed buildings. PHOTO: EPA

MEXICO CITY (REUTERS) - Rescuers toiled on Thursday (Sept 21) to extract survivors, including Taiwanese workers, from collapsed buildings 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.

More than 50 survivors have been plucked from disaster sites in Mexico City since Tuesday afternoon's 7.1-magnitude quake, and first responders, volunteers and spectators joined in chants of "Yes we can!"

The death toll was at least 233, revised down from 237 earlier on Thursday, according to Mexico's head of civil protection Luis Felipe Puente. In Mexico City 1,900 were injured.

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As the chance of survival diminished with each passing hour, officials vowed to press on, heartened by a few success stories.

Late on Wednesday night, an eight-year-old girl was rescued from a collapsed building in the Tlalpan neighborhood, nearly 36 hours after the quake, local officials said.

After more than a day of wall-to-wall television coverage of the search for a girl in the rubble of the Enrique Rebsamen School in the south of the capital, the Mexican Navy changed its version of events and said all pupils were now accounted for.

"We have done a count with the school authorities and we are sure that all the children, either tragically, died, or are in hospital, or safe at home," said senior Navy official Angel Enrique Sarmiento.

Mexican television stations, led by broadcaster Televisa, had cited rescuers as saying that a schoolgirl was trapped in the rubble. An admiral in charge of the rescue effort at the school had confirmed that.

Eleven other children were rescued from the same Enrique Rebsamen School, where students are aged roughly six to 15. Nineteen children and six adults there were killed. The body of a woman was pulled out on Thursday morning.

The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed five nationals were trapped in a collapsed clothing factory in the Obrera neighbourhood. The victims included a Taiwanese businessman, according to Carlos Liao, Taiwan's top envoy to Mexico.

Volunteers cutting through debris at the factory, which had been combed by rescue dogs, heard signs of life.

"First we heard blows, and then we established visual contact. There was a person trapped in a car," said rescue worker Amaury Perez.

"We shouted, 'If you are inside the vehicle, please knock three times.' He knocked three times."

Rescue workers were joined by crews from Panama, El Salvador, the United States and Israel with others from Latin American countries on the way.

Throughout the capital, volunteers and bystanders used dogs, cameras, motion detectors and heat-seeking equipment to detect victims who may still be alive. Mechanical diggers moved large slabs of concrete.


Armed soldiers guarded abandoned buildings feared to be at the point of collapse. Some 52 buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone and more in the surrounding states.

Thousands of people have donated food, water, medicine, blankets and other basic items to help relief efforts. Companies provided free services, and restaurants delivered food to shelters where thousands of people have sought refuge after their homes were damaged.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has declared three days of national mourning, said, "If anything distinguishes Mexicans, it is our generosity and fraternity." The extensive damage to many buildings, some of them relatively new, has raised questions over construction standards which were supposed to have improved after a devastating 1985 quake.

Tuesday's quake killed 102 people in Mexico City and the remainder in five surrounding states, officials said. The state of Puebla was hit hard. Governor Jose Antonio Gali said on local television that 86 churches had been damaged and more than 1,600 homes would have to be demolished.

The quake came on the anniversary of a 1985 earthquake that killed thousands and still resonates in Mexico. Annual Sept 19 earthquake drills were being held a few hours before the nation got rocked once again.

Mexico was still recovering from another powerful quake less than two weeks ago that killed nearly 100 people in the south of the country.

Parts of Mexico City, home to some 20 million people, are built on an ancient lake bed that trembles easily in a quake.

Some residents and volunteers voiced anger that emergency services and military were slow to arrive to poorer southern neighbourhoods of the city, and that wealthier districts appeared prioritised.

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