Mexicans dig through collapsed buildings as quake kills 225

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Rescuers said Wednesday they have found a surviving child in the ruins of a school that collapsed in Mexico’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake, one of many efforts across the city to save people trapped in under schools, homes and businesses toppled by a quake that killed at least 225 people.

Helmeted workers worked at the debris, sometimes calling for silence, as they tried to reach the girl at the Enrique Rebsamen school in southern Mexico City.

Foro TV reported that rescuers spotted the child and shouted to her to move her hand if she could hear them, and she did. A search dog subsequently entered the wreckage and confirmed she was alive.

Tuesday’s magnitude-7.1 quake struck on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 earthquake that killed thousands. Just hours before it hit, people around Mexico had held earthquake drills to mark the date.

One of the most desperate rescue efforts was at the Rebsamen primary and secondary school, where a wing of the three-story building collapsed into a massive pancake of concrete slabs. Journalists saw rescuers pull at least two small bodies from the rubble, covered in sheets.

Volunteer rescue worker Dr. Pedro Serrano managed to crawl into the crevices of the tottering pile of rubble that had been Escuela Enrique Rebsamen. He made it into a classroom, but found all of its occupants dead.

Mexico’s federal Education Department reported late Tuesday night that 25 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage of a school that collapsed during Tuesday’s earthquake. Most of the dead are children. Across Mexico, more than 200 are known dead in the earthquake. (Sept. 20)

“We saw some chairs and wooden tables. The next thing we saw was a leg, and then we started to move rubble and we found a girl and two adults — a woman and a man,” he said.

“We can hear small noises, but we don’t know if they’re coming from above or below, from the walls above (crumbling), or someone below calling for help.”

A mix of neighborhood volunteers, police and firefighters used trained dogs and their bare hands to search through the school’s ruins. The crowd of anxious parents outside the gates shared reports that two families had received WhatsApp messages from girls trapped inside, but that could not be confirmed.

Rescuers brought in wooden beams to shore up the fallen concrete slabs so they wouldn’t collapse further and crush whatever airspaces remained.

The federal Education Department reported late Tuesday that 25 bodies had been recovered from the school’s wreckage, all but four of them children. It was not clear whether those deaths were included in the overall death toll of 225 reported by the federal civil defense agency. Pena Nieto had earlier reported 22 bodies found and said 30 children and eight adults were reported missing.

In a video message released late Tuesday, Pena Nieto urged people to be calm and said authorities were moving to provide help as 40 percent of Mexico City and 60 percent of nearby Morelos state were without power. But, he said, “the priority at this moment is to keep rescuing people who are still trapped and to give medical attention to the injured people.”

People across central Mexico already had rallied to help their neighbors as dozens of buildings tumbled into mounds of broken concrete. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 sites in the capital alone as high-rises across the city swayed and twisted and hundreds of thousands of panicked people ran into the streets.

The huge volunteer effort included people from all walks of life in Mexico City, where social classes seldom mix. Doctors, dentists and lawyers lined up alongside with construction workers and street sweepers, handing buckets of debris or chunks of concrete hand-to-hand down the line.

Even Mexico City’s normally raucous motorcycle clubs swung into action, using motorcades to open lanes for emergency vehicles on avenues crammed with cars largely immobilized by street closures and malfunctioning stoplights.

Dust-covered and exhausted from digging, 30-year-old Carlos Mendoza said two people were pulled alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building in the Roma Sur neighborhood during a three-hour period.

“When we saw this, we came to help,” he said, gesturing at the destruction. “This is ugly, very ugly.”

Blocks away, Alma Gonzalez was in her fourth-floor apartment when the quake collapsed the ground floor of her building, leaving her no way out. She was terrified until her neighbors mounted a ladder on their roof and helped her slide out a side window.

The official Twitter feed of civil defense agency head Luis Felipe Puente said 94 dead had been counted in Mexico City and 71 in Morelos state, which is just south of the capital. It said 43 were known dead in Puebla state, where the quake was centered. Twelve deaths were listed in the State of Mexico, which borders Mexico City on three sides, four in Guerrero state and one in Oaxaca.

At the site of a collapsed apartment building in Mexico City, rescuers worked atop a three-story pile of rubble, forming a human chain that passed pieces of rubble across four city blocks to a site where they were dumped.

Throughout the day, rescuers pulled dust-covered people, some barely conscious, some seriously injured, from about three dozen collapsed buildings. At one site, shopping carts commandeered from a nearby supermarket were used to carry water to the rescue site and take rubble away.

As night fell, huge flood lights lit up the recovery sites, but workers and volunteers begged for headlamps.

Where a six-story office building collapsed in Mexico City, sisters Cristina and Victoria Lopez Torres formed part of a human chain passing bottled water.

“I think it’s human nature that drives everyone to come and help others,” Cristina Lopez said.

“We are young. We didn’t live through′85. But we know that it’s important to come out into the streets to help,” said her sister Victoria.

Ricardo Ibarra, 48, did live through the 1985 quake and said there hadn’t been anything like it since.

Wearing a bright orange vest and carrying a backpack with a sleeping bag strapped to it, he said he and his friends just wanted to help.

“People are very sensitive because today was the 32nd anniversary of a tragedy,” he said.

Buildings also collapsed in Morelos state, including the town hall and local church in Jojutla near the quake’s epicenter. A dozen people died in Jojutla.

The town’s Instituto Morelos secondary school partly collapsed, but school director Adelina Anzures said the earthquake drill held in the morning came in handy.

“I told them that it was not a game, that we should be prepared,” Anzures said of the drill. When the quake came, she said, children and teachers rapidly filed out and nobody was hurt.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 quake hit at 1:14 p.m. (2:14 p.m. EDT) and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.

The quake appeared to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico’s southern coast and also was felt strongly in the capital.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted the epicenters of the two quakes were 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart and said most aftershocks are within (60 miles) 100 kilometers.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


Previous Story

Police, firefighters and ordinary Mexicans are digging frantically through the rubble of collapsed schools, homes and apartment buildings, looking for survivors of Mexico's deadliest earthquake in decades as the number of confirmed fatalities climbed to 217.

Adding poignancy and a touch of the surreal, Tuesday's magnitude-7.1 quake struck on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 earthquake that killed thousands. Just hours earlier, people around Mexico had held earthquake drills to mark the date.

One of the most desperate rescue efforts was at a primary and secondary school in southern Mexico City, where a wing of the three-story building collapsed into a massive pancake of concrete slabs. Journalists saw rescuers pull at least two small bodies from the rubble, covered in sheets.

A mix of neighborhood volunteers, police and firefighters used trained dogs and their bare hands to search through the school's rubble. The crowd of anxious parents outside the gates shared reports that two families had received Whatsapp messages from girls trapped inside, but that could not be confirmed. The rescue effort was punctuated by cries of "Quiet!" so searchers could listen for any faint calls for help.


Previous Story

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 139 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

Dozens of buildings tumbled into mounds of rubble or were severely damaged in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby states. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 places in the capital alone as high-rises across the city swayed sickeningly.

Hours after the quake, rescue workers were still clawing through the wreckage of a primary school that partly collapsed in the city's south looking for any children who might be trapped. Some relatives said they had received Whatsapp message from two girls inside.

The quake is the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 quake on the same date killed thousands. It came less than two weeks after another powerful quake caused 90 deaths in the country's south.

Luis Felipe Puente, head of the national Civil Defense agency, tweeted Tuesday night that the confirmed death toll had risen to 139.

His tweet said 64 people died in Morelos state, just south of Mexico City, though local officials reported only 54. In addition, 36 were killed in the capital, 29 in Puebla state, nine in the State of Mexico and one in Guerrero state, he said.

The count did not include one death that officials in the southern state of Oaxaca reported earlier as quake-related.

The federal government declared a state of disaster in Mexico City, freeing up emergency funds. President Enrique Pena Nieto said he had ordered all hospitals to open their doors to the injured.

Mancera, the Mexico City mayor, said 50 to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens and emergency workers in the capital. Authorities said at least 70 people in the capital had been hospitalized for injuries.

The federal interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, said authorities had reports of people possibly still being trapped in collapsed buildings. He said search efforts were slow because of the fragility of rubble.

"It has to be done very carefully," he said. And "time is against us."

At one site, reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble. Rescuers immediately called for silence so they could listen for others who might be trapped.

Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, was one of many who spontaneously participated in rescue efforts.

She wore a paper face mask and her hands were still dusty from having joined a rescue brigade to clear rubble from a building that fell in a cloud of dust before her eyes, about 15 minutes after the quake.

Morales said she was in a taxi when the quake struck, and she got out and sat on a sidewalk to try to recover from the scare. Then, just a few yards away, the three-story building fell.

A dust-covered Carlos Mendoza, 30, said that he and other volunteers had been able to pull two people alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building after three hours of effort.

"We saw this and came to help," he said. "It's ugly, very ugly."

Alma Gonzalez was in her fourth floor apartment in the Roma neighborhood when the quake pancaked the ground floor of her building, leaving her no way out - until neighbors set up a ladder on their roof and helped her slide out a side window.

Gala Dluzhynska was taking a class with 11 other women on the second floor of a building on trendy Alvaro Obregon street when the quake struck and window and ceiling panels fell as the building began to tear apart.

She said she fell in the stairs and people began to walk over her, before someone finally pulled her up.

"There were no stairs anymore. There were rocks," she said.

They reached the bottom only to find it barred. A security guard finally came and unlocked it.

The quake sent people throughout the city fleeing from homes and offices, and many people remained in the streets for hours, fearful of returning to the structures.

Alarms blared and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument on the iconic Reforma Avenue.

Electricity and cellphone service was interrupted in many areas and traffic was snarled as signal lights went dark.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 quake hit at 1:14 p.m. (2:15 p.m. EDT) and was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla Gov. Tony Gali tweeted there were damaged buildings in the city of Cholula, including collapsed church steeples.

Earlier in the day, workplaces across Mexico City held earthquake readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake that killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of the capital.

In that tragedy, too, ordinary citizens played a crucial role in rescue efforts that overwhelmed officials.

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck Tuesday. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.

Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city's normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.

Mexico City's international airport suspended operations and was checking facilities for damage.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.

The new quake appeared to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico's southern coast and also was felt strongly in the capital.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted the epicenters of the two quakes were 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart and said most aftershocks are within (60 miles) 100 kilometers.

There have been 19 earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger within 150 miles (250 kilometers) of Tuesday's quake over the past century, Earle said.

Earth usually has about 15 to 20 earthquakes this size or larger each year, Earle said.

Initial calculations showed that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday's quake.


Previous Story

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 119 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust and thousands fled into the streets in panic.

The quake came less than two weeks after another quake left 90 dead in the country's south, and it occurred as Mexicans commemorated the anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed thousands.

Mexican media broadcast images of multiple downed buildings in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby Cuernavaca. A column of smoke rose from a structure in one central neighborhood in the capital.

Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez reported on Twitter that at least 42 people had died in his state south of Mexico City.

Gov. Alfredo del Mazo told the Televisa news network that two people died in the State of Mexico, which also borders the capital: a quarry worker who was killed when the quake unleashed a rockslide and another person who was hit by a falling lamppost.

Rescue workers rushed to the site of damaged or collapsed buildings in the capital, and reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble.

Rescuers immediately called for silence so that they could listen for others who might be trapped.

The quake caused buildings to sway sickeningly in Mexico City and sent panicked office workers streaming into the streets, but the full extent of the damage was not yet clear.

The U.S. Geological Survey calculated its magnitude at 7.1 and said it was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, about 76 miles (123 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City.

Puebla Gov. Tony Gali tweeted that there had been damaged buildings in the city of Cholula including collapsed church steeples.

In Mexico City, thousands of people fled office buildings and hugged to calm each other along the central Reforma Avenue as alarms blared, and traffic stopped around the Angel of Independence monument.

Earlier in the day workplaces across the city held readiness drills on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, a magnitude 8.0 shake, which killed thousands of people and devastated large parts of Mexico City.

In the Roma neighborhood, which was hit hard by the 1985 quake, piles of stucco and brick fallen from building facades littered the streets. At least one large parking structure collapsed. Two men calmed a woman seated on a stool in the street, blood trickling form a small wound on her knee.

At a nearby market, a worker in a hardhat walked around the outside warning people not to smoke as a smell of gas filled the air.

Market stall vendor Edith Lopez, 25, said she was in a taxi a few blocks away when the quake struck. She said she saw glass bursting out of the windows of some buildings. She was anxiously trying to locate her children, whom she had left in the care of her disabled mother.

Pictures fell from office building walls, objects were shaken off of flat surfaces and computer monitors toppled over. Some people dove for cover under desks. Local media broadcast video of whitecap waves churning the city's normally placid canals of Xochimilco as boats bobbed up and down.

Mexico City's international airport suspended operations and was checking facilities for any damage.

Much of Mexico City is built on former lakebed, and the soil can amplify the effects of earthquakes centered hundreds of miles away.

The new quake appears to be unrelated to the magnitude 8.1 temblor that hit Sept. 7 off Mexico's southern coast and which also was felt strongly in the capital.

U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle noted that the epicenters of the two quakes are 400 miles (650 kilometers) apart and most aftershocks are within 100 kilometers.

There have been 19 earthquakes of magnitude 6.5 or larger within 250 kilometers of Tuesday's quake in the past century, Earle said.

Earth usually has about 15 to 20 earthquakes this size or larger each year, Earle said.

Initial calculations show that more than 30 million people would have felt moderate shaking from Tuesday's quake. The US Geological Survey predicts "significant casualty and damage are likely and the disaster is potentially widespread."