Saturday 21 October 2017

Mexico quake death toll rises to 293, as searches for survivors continue

Women react during a search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Women react during a search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
People look on during a search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico . REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Rescuers, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and volunteers search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City yesterday. Photo: Yuri Cortez/Getty
Relatives wait for news of their loved ones as they react next to a collapsed building after an earthquake in Mexico City. Photo: Reuters
A man is pulled out of the rubble alive following a quake in Mexico City. Photo: Getty Images
A woman is taken for medical assistance after being injured. Photo: Getty Images
A man trapped in a collapsed building takes a sip of water as he waits to be rescued from the rubble after the quake in Mexico City. Photo: AP
Rescue teams swarm around the Enrique Rebsamen school. Photo: Getty Images
A soldier stands guard next to donations of bottled water for rescue workers and victims next to a collapsed building after earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Julia Love

Mexico has raised the death toll from Tuesday's earthquake to 293, with more than half the fatalities in the capital.

National Civil Protection chief Luis Felipe Puente said there were 155 dead in Mexico City.

In a tweet on Friday, Mr Puente said the tolls remained unchanged elsewhere with 73 in Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico state, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

Human chains of rescuers on Friday sped up efforts to remove rubble from collapsed buildings in Mexico City, assisted by dogs and heat sensors and refusing to give up hope of finding survivors of the earthquake three days ago.

A woman is taken for medical assistance after being injured. Photo: Getty Images
A woman is taken for medical assistance after being injured. Photo: Getty Images

Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude quake leveled 52 buildings in the sprawling Mexican capital, leaving thousands homeless and bringing down apartment blocks, a school and a textile factory.

Mexican soldiers and volunteers, supported by teams from as far afield as Israel and Japan have so far rescued at least 60 people from the ruins in Mexico City and surrounding towns.

A man trapped in a collapsed building takes a sip of water as he waits to be rescued from the rubble after the quake in Mexico City. Photo: AP
A man trapped in a collapsed building takes a sip of water as he waits to be rescued from the rubble after the quake in Mexico City. Photo: AP

Despite dimming hopes of finding many more survivors, President Enrique Pena Nieto insisted rescue operations would continue.

For many the search is highly personal.

A soldier stands guard next to donations of bottled water for rescue workers and victims next to a collapsed building after earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A soldier stands guard next to donations of bottled water for rescue workers and victims next to a collapsed building after earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Firefighter Teresa Ramirez Flores, 40, was helping the search in an office building in Mexico City's Roma neighborhood where her cousin Carolina Muniz, a 43-year-old accountant, was trapped.

"I would happily lose my life doing this, even more so because my cousin is inside," Ramirez said, describing a feeling of impotence as she tried to reach her cousin who was on the second floor when the building fell.

"We want to be superheroes so that our country doesn't suffer," she said at a site where volunteers brought a wheelbarrow filled with candy to the rescue teams.

After three days, rescuers were finding more dead bodies than living survivors, but authorities said there were signs of life picked up by dogs and sensors at several sites.

On several occasions, hundreds of rescuers broke into spontaneous renditions of Mexico's national anthem

"I was surrounded by people who I had never seen before and I may never see again, but in this moment we were brothers," said Alejandro Barrera, a 27-year-old volunteer carrying rubble in a human chain for the second day in a row.

"I won't get tired until they don't need the brigades any more," Barrera said, his name written on his arm to identify him in case he was injured.

Across the city of 20 million people, many people whose dwellings had become uninhabitable sought somewhere to call home, raising the risk of a housing shortage in coming weeks.

Officials cordoned off large areas of the Girasoles complex in the south of the city after two of its roughly 30 apartment buildings collapsed. A handwritten sign across the street listed 14 people said to have died there.

Anguished residents, who were given a series of 20-minute blocks of time to collect belongings from their apartments, feared their homes could be turned to rubble once inspectors have determined which buildings are safe and which may need to be demolished if they are a risk to public safety.

"The building is very, very damaged. It moves. Everything moves," said Vladimir Estrada, a 39-year-old musical radio programmer, returning from a rushed trip to his fifth floor apartment with plastic bags stuffed with his belongings.

With few places to go and many of the properties uninsured, many chose to camp out, making the most of allotted windows of time to get their possessions. Others slept in their cars.

Emergency services worker Ana Karen Almanza was helping coordinate the arrival of donated supplies in the park, where about a dozen tarp awnings had been erected. She said there was no official involvement in the tent village emerging around her.

Tuesday's massive quake struck on the anniversary of the deadly 1985 tremor that killed some 5,000 people in Mexico City. As the shock of this week began to subside, exhaustion crept in, along with growing discontent and swirling speculation.

On Thursday, Mexico's Navy apologized for communicating incorrect information in the story a fictitious schoolgirl, supposedly trapped under a collapsed school in Mexico City.

The tale of the girl, dubbed Frida Sofia by local media, had captivated a devastated nation, and the high-profile televised blunder led to anger.

Officials also sought to quash rumors that the military would bulldoze razed buildings deemed unlikely to harbor survivors. Across the city, thousands of rescue workers and special teams using sniffer dogs continued to comb the wreckage of buildings for survivors.

With signs of tensions bubbling under the surface, the country's unpopular political class strove to shine.

Disaster relief is sensitive for politicians in Mexico after the government's widely panned response to the 1985 quake caused upheaval, which some credited with weakening the one-party rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In a statement, the PRI said it would be donating 258 million pesos ($14.42 million), or 25 percent of its annual federal funding, to help those afflicted.

After news of the PRI plans broke, leftist presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador upped the ante, proposing donating 50 percent of his National Regeneration Movement party's 2018 federal funding to support victims, an offer matched by the conservative National Action Party.

The full scale of the damage has not been officially calculated although the United States Geological Survey estimated it at up to $10 billion.

Citigroup's Mexican unit Citibanamex told clients it was lowering its 2017 economic growth forecast to 1.9 percent from 2.0 percent due to the earthquake.

Reuters

Editors Choice

Also in World News