On September 19th, 2017, a deadly earthquake rocked Mexico City and sparked a thousand stories of indescribable pain and unbelievable courage.
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Tuesday, September 19th, 2017. Mexico City.
I’m sitting at the computer trying to schedule media posts for the rest of the week. I know I have a good 50 minutes before it’s time to pick up my kids from school, so I decide to make the most of my time.
I can hear the people on the radio talking about the 32nd anniversary of the deadly 1985 earthquake that killed thousands. It’s amazing to realize there’s now an entire generation of youngsters who thankfully don’t remember that awful nightmare.
I feel my chair start to sway and a sudden, strange dizziness. With a feeling of dread, I stand up and realize the entire house is shaking violently.
As the shaking gets more and more violent, I run out of my house to the street and feel the ground start to rock left and right. I can hear a low rumble coming from the ground and the deep thumping of houses knocking against each other. My neighbors run out of their homes screaming.
I think about my two younger children, whose school is a three-story building.
It’s over, but many homes and buildings haven’t stopped shaking. The ground beneath Mexico City is as unstable as gelatin, so the shaking continues even after the ground stops moving.
1:17 to 3:00 pm
I know my husband is at work, my oldest son is at the university, and my two little kids are at school. I try to contact my husband and my son, but all communications are down. There’s no electricity, no phone line, no wi-fi, no nothing.
I grab my keys and run off to my kids’ school, which is only a couple of blocks away.
The school has been evacuated. All the kids are in the yard, watched over by nervous teachers as a crowd of anxious parents rush to grab their children.
I find my two little ones and we hug each other. They cling to me looking for comfort. We walk home, holding hands tightly.
Everyone is out on the street. No one goes back into their house or into their office building. Traffic is at a standstill. People are listening to the news on the radio and we all slowly begin to realize the extent of the tragedy.
We arrive home and I try to call or message my husband and my son. Nothing. In the event of disaster, we’ve all agreed to meet back home, so there’s nothing to do but wait.
I pace around and start to panic a little but I try not let my kids see it. I turn on the radio in my phone and I feel my stomach turn when I hear the news of buildings collapsing with people inside.
I say a prayer and trust that my husband and my son are both all right.
I hear the sound of wheels scraping the driveway. My husband runs in and scoops our little children and me in his arms. When my teenage son walks through the door, we’re all still hugging.
My family is safe, and that’s all that matters.
The Mexico City Earthquake
At 1:14 pm, a powerful earthquake struck Mexico City. The ground shook and rocked with enough strength to crumble brick and concrete walls and turn the entire city into a disaster area.
Electricity and phone and internet service went down. There were gas leaks everywhere. One of the airport terminals was damaged and airplanes were turned around. Plumes of dust rose all over the city like evil markers showing where buildings had crumbled.
Buildings collapsed all over Mexico City, trapping dozens of people beneath the rubble. Clouds of dust swirled above the city, signaling the chaos and destruction on the streets.
Ironically, all the skyscrapers and high rises remained undamaged, while many buildings with less than 10 stories where severely affected or collapsed.
Most people might think tall buildings are in danger during an earthquake, but it’s just the opposite. Every single one of the new, shiny towers on fancy Reforma avenue remained unscathed while smaller apartment and office buildings cracked and crumbled.
As soon as the earthquake stopped, thousands of ordinary people poured into the streets and ran to help wherever a building had collapsed.
Neighbors and passerby lined up, formed human chains, and started digging with shovels and their bare hands to rescue any survivors.
There were so many volunteers, many of them had to be turned away, but others quickly started supply chains of food, water, medicines, and rescue equipment.
The solidarity of the Mexican people is beyond words. It has restored my faith in humanity.
But the most heart-breaking tragedy was the collapse of an elementary school, which buried dozens of children beneath tons of rubble. As I write this, there are 37 people confirmed dead, 32 of them children.
As the school collapsed, concrete slabs slammed down into each other, turning the building into a terrfying pancake stack. According to witnesses, the school collapsed only seconds after the earthquake started.
Rescue teams, army soldiers, firemen, police, and volunteers worked around the clock to pull as many children from the debris as they could. The rescue efforts didn’t stop until everyone at the school was accounted for and the last person was pulled from the rubble.
These rescue workers and volunteers risked their lives while doing this. They crawled into tunnels looking for survivors even as aftershocks threatened to collapse the ruins around them.
But the possibility of finding people alive kept them going. In an eerie turn of events, as soon as wi-fi signals returned, several students trapped in the rubble began sending messages to their families via Whatsapp, begging to be rescued.
Unfortunately, rescue efforts were slow and painstaking. Survivors needed to be dug out slowly, as if they were caught in the middle of a deadly pile of Jenga pieces. Move the wrong one, and everything might come crashing down.
I have no words to describe this pain. These children got up in the morning, got ready for school, sat at class, had lunch, played at recess. They were looking forward to going home, but too many of them will never go home again.
Pray for them and their families.
The Earthquake in Puebla and Morelos
The nearby provinces of Puebla and Morelos were also hit hard by the earthquake. Many homes and buildings in small towns and villages were destroyed.
The town of Jojutla in Morelos province was the most affected. The people there have lost everything.
In the town of Atzala, in Puebla province, a church collapsed in the middle of a baptism ceremony, killing an entire family.
Civilian and army brigades with rescue teams, volunteers and relief are slowly arriving in several isolated towns and villages in Puebla and Morelos province, but more aid is needed. The damage there is immense.
How You Can Help
The entire country of Mexico is in mourning. There is so much pain and loss.
Although we are all coming together to help each other, the need for rescue efforts and relief aid are beyond what anyone can manage.
This earthquake, along with the earthquake in Oaxaca and Chiapas, has left thousands of families homeless, hundreds of people dead, and many more wounded.
In fact, these two natural disasters will almost surely become one of Mexico’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. I honestly don’t know how all these thousands of families will get through this, so any sort of aid is welcome.
Please donate if you can. Even a small contribution can make a huge difference.