Two earthquakes and one storm in a month leave ruinous human, economic toll for Mexico

Rescuers work in a building toppled by a magnitude 7.1 quake that struck central Mexico almost a week ago, in Mexico City, on Sept 25, 2017.
Rescuers work in a building toppled by a magnitude 7.1 quake that struck central Mexico almost a week ago, in Mexico City, on Sept 25, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

MEXICO CITY (AFP, REUTERS) - A pair of devastating earthquakes and Tropical Storm Lidia in Mexico killed more than 400 people and toppled 150,000 houses and other buildings and structures, authorities said on Wednesday (Sept 27).

The damage included almost 12,000 ruined schools to the tune of US$717 million (S$975 million). And that was in addition to 1,500 national monument structures worth about US$440 million. All three disasters hit in September.

"The raw, preliminary numbers cross over from homes, to monuments, to thousands of schools that have to be completely rebuilt," President Enrique Pena Nieto told reporters after a meeting of his Cabinet and local officials.

In early September, Tropical Storm Lidia killed at least seven people in Baja California Sur, in northwestern Mexico.

And on Sept 7, an 8.2 earthquake shook the nation and killed about 100 people mostly in the southern state of Oaxaca.

Then on Sept 19 - the 32nd anniversary of a huge 1985 quake that killed 10,000 people - another 7.1 quake rocked the country. So far, 337 people have been killed, mostly in Mexico City.

The earthquake, and one a few days earlier that killed around 100 people, have become political issues for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, stretched to capacity by the disasters and coming under increasing criticism.

“We blame the government for their deaths,” Estrada said. 

The earthquakes caused US$2 billion in damage to schools, housing and heritage sites including churches, ministers said on Wednesday.

Pena Nieto said funds set aside for disaster recovery “were not infinite” and warned financing would have to be reassigned in the 2018 budget, which is currently under discussion in Congress. 

At least 190,000 buildings have been seriously damaged across Mexico by the quakes and storms in recent weeks, Pena Nieto said on Tuesday. A senior official said there was a collapse risk at 1,500 buildings in the capital. 

Earlier in the day, smoke, ash and red-hot rocks belched from the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City, heightening anxiety for many locals, although officials said there was no imminent threat. 

Popocatepetl, whose name means “Smoking Mountain” in the native Nahuatl language, showered a village at its base with ash, shook with the force of a 1.8 magnitude earthquake and spewed flaming rocks to distances of up to 1 km, the National Disaster Prevention Center (Cenapred) said. 

The earthquake had its epicenter just a few miles from the volcano and “probably pushed” the volcanic activity, Carlos Valdez, director of Cenapred, told Reuters. 

However, eruptions at the volcano have become relatively common since it reactivated 23 years ago.