September 19th 2017 will be remembered by all Mexicans as a day of tragedy. Thirty two years ago, on the same day (19/09/85) a 8.1 quake hit the capital city and killed over 10 thousand people. This time, the number of deaths is much lower (205 so far) but the pain is the same. How could this happen again? Weren’t we prepared for a quake like this? No, we weren’t. Why? Corruption. Again. Some of the collapsed buildings were either too old or poorly constructed. I thought Mexico had learned a lesson after the terrible earthquake of 1985, but I was wrong.
The day of the earthquake, I woke up early in the morning (5:30 am), took a shower, ate breakfast, kissed my parents on the forehead while they were sleeping, hugged my dog and left to work at an English school. I took a taxi because there was a lot of traffic and I didn’t want to be late. When the class finished, I left to my second job in Condesa.
During the morning, I read plenty of news and articles about the quake that took place in 1985, as well as testimonials of people who, unfortunately, lived this national tragedy. They said where they were when the quake happened and how that tragedy changed them for the rest of their lives.
Since the earthquake of 1985, every year in Mexico we do a commemoration in memory of the victims that passed away and the ones who were never found under the rubble. The government set the seismic alarm (a device that lets you know that is about to tremble) at 11 am and we did a sort of “simulation” which consists of evacuating buildings and houses orderly, as if it was actually trembling. Because it was a simulation, many people ignored the alarm and didn’t evacuate their offices.
Two hours later, while I was editing a video, I started to feel dizzy. “What the hell is going on?”, I thought. It was 1:14 pm. Josué, my colleague and friend, said it was trembling . “I don’t think so, the seismic alarm isn’t ringing!” I said. But Josué was right, it was trembling. We ran to the stairs as fast as we could. He pulled my arm to take me out of the building because I was still inside when everything started to shake wildly. I was shocked when I saw the parked cars moving back and forward. Suddenly, we saw a lot of smoke coming out of a building. A neighbour said out loud “Gas leak! Please don’t light any cigarettes!” We went back to the office but my boss had left to check if his baby boy was okay. Minutes later, he sent a message telling us to leave. We grabbed our things, unplugged all the electronic devices and left.
Fer, the 19 year-old intern, told us she was going to stay with her relatives who live a block away. It was nearly impossible for her to go home because the subway and metrobus were out of order. I told Josué I wanted to take a taxi but I changed my mind, as all the streets and main avenues were blocked. Therefore, we walked from Nuevo León Station to Río Churubusco Station (3.35 miles). On our way, we saw many restaurants and buildings with broken windows, people crying and trying to contact their beloved ones, sirens of ambulances everywhere… I was pretty worried because I didn’t know if my parents and my brother were okay. I didn’t have signal on my mobile phone and my battery was going down, so I put it away inside my purse and kept walking. I had the urge to cry, but I didn’t cry. I don’t know why. Like 40 minutes after the quake, I had signal again and got a phone call from my parents asking if I was okay. I told them I was on my way home. They said my brother was fine, too. I felt blessed.
Hundreds of people remained outside their houses and flats because they were afraid of an aftershock. I remember a guy sitting on the sidewalk with his cat in his arms and an old lady in pajamas asking everybody to stay calm. “It feels like an Apocalypse scene in a film”, Josué said.
By the time Josué and I were in Río Churubusco Station, I was exhausted and thirsty. The heat was unbearable. We stopped at Seven Eleven, a grocery store, to buy bottles of water. Josué asked me if we were close to my house and I said “not yet”. I tried to stop a taxi but the driver ignored me. All the buses were packed since the subway wasn’t in service, so we kept walking. Suddenly, a guy from a pick-up van asked us if we wanted a lift, “we need to go to Calzada de Tlalpan”, I replied and he said: “sure, jump in”.
We spent nearly an hour and a half in the “back seat” of that pick-up van with other five people. The heat was still unbearable. An old woman covered her head with a sweater. Josué offered her some water but she said no. He lent me his white striped sweater to cover my head from the shinning sun. Around 5 pm, we got to Calzada de Tlalpan, thanked the driver of the pick-up van and walked towards my flat. When we walked in front of the Holiday Inn Hotel, Josué yelled “Look at that!”. OMG. Part of a new building had collapsed. I couldn’t believe it.
When I got home, I kissed and hugged all my family, including my dog. I noticed some of the walls had damages but nothing really serious. We had supper. Around 6:30 pm, Josué left. My brother also left; his boss had asked him to go back to the office. I spent the rest of the day watching the news and reading all the posts that my Facebook contacts were posting. “If you’ve seen this man, please let us know, it’s my father, we haven’t heard from him since the earthquake”, one friend posted. “We need volunteers in Alvaro Obregon 286, the building collapsed”, another friend posted.
In total, 38 buildings collapsed, including a school (Enrique Rébsamen Institute) where 19 kids and 7 adults died, a factory of clothes where 64 bodies were found, a supermarket, and many multi-family residentials. The government stated that the seismic alarm didn’t ring in advance because the epicenter was too close (120 km away).
The following day I didn’t go to work. We bought groceries and medicines for the casualties that were living in shelters, since they had lost their home. It was really sad to hear about people who had lost a beloved one or who didn’t know where their relatives were.
Nearly two weeks have passed and people are still helping and working as volunteers in shelters and donating food and clothes. The reaction of the society really surprised me. I hope we keep this positive attitude for good. Since 19-s, the phrase “live each day as if it was your last” makes more sense to me. God bless the families and the people who had a loss.
I’m sure Mexico will stand strong.