When Tuesday’s magnitude-7.1 earthquake struck, Esther Camhi said she didn’t have a way to communicate with anyone.
Dozens of buildings collapsed into piles of broken concrete in central Mexico. Her building swayed, but was safe enough for her to run out to get into her car.
“I did not know what was happening until I got in the car and two to three hours later they did let us out and I started hearing it on the radio,” Camhi said.
Camhi, who lived through the 1985 earthquake killing thousands, was among those who were able to fly out of Mexico City. She landed at Miami International Airport Wednesday morning. The death toll continued to increase. Authorities reported Wednesday afternoon at least 225 people died.
“I was very sad,” Camhi said.
The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.1 quake was centered near the Puebla state town of Raboso, southeast of Mexico City. A magnitude 8.1 temblor hit Mexico’s southern coast Sept. 7. It was also felt strongly in Mexico City. Seismologist Paul Earle said the epicenters of both earthquakes were about 400 miles apart and most after shocks are within 60 miles.
Alfredo Coutino, the Latin America director for Moody’s Analytics, said “it is certain that economic activity … will continue to be disrupted for some time.”
Francisco Arguedas said he was in Mexico City for business. He managed to escape an office building and headed to the Mexico City International Airport. After exiting his flight at MIA, he said the experience was terrifying. About three dozen buildings collapsed.
“There is people trapped in those buildings,” Arguedas said. “It is chaos.”
Most of the attention Wednesday was around the ruins of the Escuela Enrique Rebsamen primary and secondary school in southern Mexico City. A wing of the three-story building collapsed into a massive pancake of concrete slabs.
Helmeted workers moved around the debris. There as a mix of neighborhood volunteers, police officers and firefighters. They called for silence as they tried to reach a little girl. Dr. Pedro Serrano crawled into a classroom, where he found all of its 25 occupants dead.
“We saw some charis 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,” Serrano said. “We can hear small noises, but we don’t know if they are coming from above or below, from the walls above or someone below calling for help.”
There was hope they would find survivors. There were 30 children and eight adults who reportedly vanished. Foro TV reported rescuers asked the girl to move her hand if she could hear them and she did. A search dog confirmed she was alive.
There were tales of heroism all around the city. Alma Gonzalez was trapped in her fourth-floor apartment when the ground floor of her building collapsed. Her neighbors mounted a ladder on their roof and helped her slide out a side window.
In the Roma Sur neighborhood, Carlos Mendoza, 30, who was covered with dust and exhausted, said he was involved in an effort to rescue two survivors who were trapped under the ruins of an apartment building. In another part of the city, a human chain formed across four city blocks to move rubble out.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto declared three days of national mourning.
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