Race to rescue survivors from ruins of Mexico quake

Soldiers at the ruins of a building in Juchitan, in Oaxaca. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto toured the hardest-hit city, where at least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins.
Soldiers at the ruins of a building in Juchitan, in Oaxaca. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto toured the hardest-hit city, where at least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins.PHOTO: REUTERS

JUCHITÁN DE ZARAGOZA (Mexico) • Police, soldiers and emergency workers raced to rescue survivors from the ruins of Mexico's most powerful earthquake in a century, which killed at least 61 people, as storm Katia menaced the country's eastern coast yesterday with heavy rains.

In the southern region hit hardest by the quake, emergency workers looked for survivors in the rubble of houses, churches and schools torn apart in the 8.1-magnitude quake.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said 45 people were killed in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco.

Meanwhile, storm Katia made landfall in the east as a Category 1 hurricane and hours later was downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70kmh.

The storm was bringing rains likely to cause "life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain", the United States National Hurricane Centre said.

Katia was lashing the state of Veracruz, bordering the Gulf of Mexico, as well as parts of Hidalgo and Puebla. Forecasters were predicting the storm could unleash upwards of 64cm of rain in some areas.

The government warned that Katia could threaten about one million people and unleash dangerous floods. Adding to the concerns, the authorities warned that another massive aftershock could follow within 24 hours of the first quake.

Mr Pena Nieto toured the hardest-hit city, Juchitan in Oaxaca, where at least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins. The city's eerily quiet streets were a maze of rubble, with roofs, cables, insulation and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.

A crowd had formed at Juchitan's partially collapsed town hall, a Spanish colonial building where two policemen were trapped in the rubble.

Rescuers managed to extract one and were still working to save the other 18 hours after the quake.

"God, let him come out alive!" said a woman watching as four cranes and a fleet of trucks removed what remained of the building's crumbled wing.

His blue uniform covered in dust, Mr Vidal Vera, 29, was one of around 300 police officers digging through the rubble. He had not slept in more than 36 hours. "I can't remember an earthquake this terrible," he said. "The whole city is a disaster zone. Lots of damage. Lots of deaths. I don't know how you can make sense of it. It's hard... "

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday expressed "deepest condolences" to Mr Pena Nieto in a letter. "I am confident that under your able leadership, Mexico will overcome this tragic event," said Mr Lee.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEE WORLD

5.6m people ordered to flee as Irma nears Florida

Katia weakens after making landfall in Mexico

Singaporean in Florida staying put

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Race to rescue survivors from ruins of Mexico quake'. Print Edition | Subscribe