Rescue workers backed by an army of untrained volunteers searched for survivors buried under mounds of rubble as the death toll from Tuesday’s powerful earthquake climbed to at least 223 across central Mexico.
The 7.1 magnitude earthquake left a chess board of destruction across the country’s capital, where almost a hundred deaths have been confirmed so far.
At least 44 buildings collapsed completely in Mexico City, according to official figures, with thousands more left damaged and unstable in the sprawling city, which is built on a drained lakebed.
Mexico City mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera said 52 people had been pulled alive from the rubble of collapsed buildings.
On Wednesday, rescuers were reportedly trying to reach a girl buried under a collapsed school to the south of Mexico City after rescue dogs sent into the wreckage confirmed she was alive.
A hose was threaded through the debris to get her water as the army joined rescue efforts at the Enrique Rebsamen primary and secondary school, where one wing of the three-storey building buckled into a pile of concrete slabs. The school collapsed as teachers were trying to lead the children outside to safety.
On Tuesday, the bodies of 21 school children and four adults were discovered. Hope of finding anyone else alive had diminished overnight until rescuers spotted the unnamed girl’s hand moving amid the rubble.
Outside the ruined school, anxious parents gathered and waited for news of more than 30 children who are still unaccounted for.
Outside the capital, one of the hardest hit places was Jojutla, a small town in the neighbouring state of Morelos. At least 14 people were confirmed dead, 300 homes and businesses collapsed entirely, and at least 1,500 other buildings were damaged, according to the mayor. At least 71 people were confirmed dead across the state.
Enrique Peña Nieto, the Mexican president, declared three days of national mourning in honour of the victims, and the death toll was expected to rise in coming days as rescue workers combed through tons of rubble.
“Mexico shares your pain” was posted on the president’s official Twitter account as the period of mourning was announced.
Mexico is still reeling from a powerful 8.4 quake that killed almost 100 people and left thousands homeless in the south of the country less than two weeks ago. Tuesday’s 7.1 tremor struck 32 years to the day after the country’s most lethal earthquake ever left thousands dead and the capital flattened.
The quake happened hours after a scheduled drill, which may have caused confusion and deterred people from following protocol to evacuate buildings immediately, according to some reports. It was also unclear why a warning alarm sounded a fraction after buildings started shaking – it should, in theory, be triggered before.
In the capital, the leafy neighbourhoods of La Condesa and La Roma – popular with tourists and middle-class Mexicans – were also struck badly and several apartment blocks within a few blocks of each other were toppled.
Across the city, initial rescue efforts were spearheaded by neighbours, shopkeepers, and passersby until emergency services and the armed forces arrived on the scene.
Hundreds of people wearing makeshift protective clothing formed human chains to remove debris and bring essential supplies like water and medicines into the affected areas.
Volunteers worked throughout the night into Wednesday as rescue services struggled to cope with the scale of the demolition.
In an outpouring of civic generosity, thousands of people donated time, and medicines, food, water, blankets and other basic supplies to help relief efforts. Restaurants delivered food to shelters where thousands of people were forced to seek refuge after their homes were left damaged.
But questions were being asked about the reliance on volunteers and donations, and the slow arrival of rescue services to some neighbourhoods like impoverished Xochimilco in the far south of the city.
Sergio Aguyo, a well respected political analyst, wrote in a Twitter post: “Xochimilco needs help, provisions and volunteers. There are important damages and no support has arrived.”
Questions about building regulations resurfaced even as rescue efforts continued.
Peña Nieto ordered the evacuation of patients from damaged hospitals amid widespread power cuts and fears that the buildings could collapse from powerful aftershocks.
The Ceylan Valley hospital in the state of Mexico, close to the capital, was left dangerously unstable even though it was built only four years ago. New buildings are required to follow strict codes that were implemented after the 1985 quake, which revealed widespread corruption in safety regulations.
After the powerful quake earlier this month failed to cause serious damage in the capital, the government boldly – and pre-emptively – declared the new regulations had been a success.
“The government’s boast about the triumph of the new building codes were clearly bullshit, and have come falling down as we see new buildings have collapsed while older ones have survived,” said Rodolfo Soriano Nuñez, a sociologists and independent public policy analyst.
“The situation in the school – which is quite new – should not have happened of course people will be angry and questions will be asked,” he said.
On Wednesday morning, the capital was eerily quiet. Schools, offices and businesses shut and thousands of people sheltered in place as officials began the painstaking job of building safety inspections. Power has now been restored to just over 90% of the city.
The relief effort and clean-up operation could take weeks. Piles of debris, broken windows, cracked walls, and crushed cars were still scattered on streets across the affected parts of the city. It was unclear why some neighbourhoods escaped completely unscathed.
© The Guardian