Mexico City is reeling from a devastating earthquake that has left more than 200 people dead. Local residents are scrambling to lend a hand in rescue efforts. DW's Veronica Calderon reports from the Mexican capital.
Ordinary citizens and rescue workers, most of them from private organizations, continued their search through the rubble for survivors on Wednesday, one day after the magnitude 7.1 quake, which toppled dozens of building in Mexico City and struck a number of other areas outside the capital.
The mood was somber in the city's usually noisy streets. The rising death toll reminded residents of a previous catastrophe on the exact same day in 1985, when a magnitude 8.0 earthquake left some 5,000 people dead.
A short walk through the upscale La Roma neighborhood, which suffered extensive damage, provided a clear picture of what's happening in Mexico City. The silence was occasionally interrupted by sirens, helicopters and one phrase in particular - the one Mexicans usually ask each other after a tragedy. "¿Todos bien?” - Spanish for "Everything OK?"
Few people got any sleep. Some of them because their buildings were not safe to return to. Others because they were afraid. And many more because they wanted to help.
Communications cut off
It started around 1:00 p.m. Soon after, electricity cut out in many areas - Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto said that almost 40 percent of the city had no power for hours. Internet connections came and went. Many people tried to call their relatives, but the phone lines had collapsed. Perhaps the biggest irony was that friends and relatives around the world were more informed about what was happening than local residents, who responded the only way they knew how. The same way they responded in 1985.
In a matter of minutes after the quake, regular citizens took the place of traffic officers on Insurgentes, the biggest avenue in Latin America, because the traffic signs were not working. And drivers obeyed their orders. Sirens and helicopters began to sound all over the city and almost 24 hours later, they hadn't ceased.
Without power and internet, news was slow to reach many in Mexico City. Just like the painful aftermath of the earthquake 32 years ago, battery-powered radios have become the main source for information about the damage. And also for ways to help others.
As communications began to return to normal, the desire to help the victims grew. Shelters have asked people to take turns during rescue efforts because they already had so many volunteers. Doctors, engineers, architects, interpreters, construction workers and bus drivers have all come together to lend a hand.
Tragedy meets hope
At least 32 children and five adults were found dead on a Colegio Enrique Rebsamen, a school in Villa Coapa, south of Mexico City. A young girl, Fatima Navarro, managed to send a text message from under the rubble in the middle of the night. She was rescued and taken to a hospital, along with 70 other survivors.
The epicenter of the earthquake was 55 kilometers (34 miles) southwest of the city of Puebla, in Puebla state, according to the US Geological Survey. Puebla and the neighboring state of Morelos, where dozens of people were killed, suffered heavy damage.
Salvador Gonzalez, a bus driver from Ecatepec, was especially upset on Wednesday when he arrived at a shelter in Lindavista that told him that they already had too many volunteers. "I came here to help my brothers! I want to help," he said. A rescue worker told him to go to a different facility that needed more hands. "I'm going south of the city now, I just need to feel I'm doing something," Gonzalez said.
Corona, one of Mexico's biggest beer brands, have offered trucks. Many private hospitals have opened their doors to patients for free. Restaurants are making tortas and tacos to give to the rescuers on the scene. The city remains silent, however. As if its citizens know that, at this moment, everything is not OK. This time, it's not "Todos Bien."