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More than 200 killed in Mexico earthquake

September 19, 2017

A 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico has killed at least 226 people, including more than 20 children at a collapsed primary school. Rescue teams are working tirelessly to locate survivors trapped under the rubble.

People dig through the rubble after a powerful 7.1 earthquake strikes Mexico City
Image: picture-alliance/El Universal/B. Fregoso

The death toll from a devastating earthquake in central Mexico climbed to at least 226 people on Wednesday. Civil protection agency head Luis Felipe Puente wrote on Twitter Wednesday that at least 117 people had been killed in Mexico City, 55 in the state of Morelos, 39 in Puebla, 12 in Mexico State and three in Guerrero. 

Rescue efforts are focused on finding people who may still be trapped under collapsed buildings. One of the most frantic efforts is at a primary and secondary school, the Escuela Enrique Rebsamen, where it is believed around 20 children may still be trapped in a classroom. A crowd of desperate parents outside reported that two families had received WhatsApp messages from children inside the rubble. Volunteers have been risking their own safety to crawl inside the collapsed building. Volunteer rescue worker Peter Serrano described how he managed to crawl through some crevices into a classroom to find that everyone there had been killed.

"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.

Mexico's Department of Education issued a statement late Tuesday that 25 bodies had so far been recovered from the school. But many parents are still holding out hope that their children will be found.

Earthquake follows recent tremor

Tuesday's earthquake happened nearly two weeks after a devastating tremor off the country's southwestern coast killed at least 90 people. It also fell on the anniversary of a 1985 quake in Mexico City that caused the death of about 10,000 people. 

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has called together his national crisis council, said he had declared a state of disaster. Emergency personnel were deployed across affected areas to aid rescue efforts.

According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), the quake had a magnitude of 7.1 and hit 5 miles (8 kilometers) southeast of Atencingo in the central state of Puebla. Mexico's seismological agency recorded 11 aftershocks.

Mexican news outlets and residents have shared dramatic images of buildings collapsing and on fire.

Fires engulf buildings

Thousands of people were sent fleeing into the streets as buildings swayed violently in the Mexico City metropolitan area, home to more than 20 million people.  Mexican TV broadcast images of collapsed buildings and other scenes of severe damage as reports emerged of various fires in different parts of the city.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told the Televisa news network at least 44 buildings had collapsed in Mexico City and that dozens of people had so far been rescued by citizens and emergency workers. 

Buildings that collapsed in the capital included apartment blocks, a school, a factory and a supermarket. Countless volunteers and rescue workers dug through rubble searching for survivors. 

"My wife is there. I haven't been able to communicate with her. She is not answering, and now they are telling us we have to turn off our cell phones because there is a gas leak," Juan Jesus Garcia told Reuters news agency, choking back tears.

A nation pulls together

In the wake of the chaos and devastation, a massive volunteer effort has seen Mexicans from all walks of life pull together to help each other. Doctors and dentists have formed human chains with street sweepers and construction workers to hand down buckets of debris and lumps of concrete. Mexico's infamous motorcycle clubs have also joined in, using motorcades to keep lanes open for emergency vehicles to get through. When a six-story building collapsed, Cristina and Viktoria Lopez Torres helped with passing bottled water to those inside. 

"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.

aw, es, cl/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)