After Earthquake, Volunteers Unify To Confront Horror In Mexico City

A human chain of volunteers secure the area where Enrique Rébsamen school fell after the earthquake in Mexico City.
Rodrigo Cervantes
By Rodrigo Cervantes
September 21, 2017
Rodrigo Cervantes
The facade of one of the classroom buildings at Tec de Monterrey, Mexico City Campus, after the September 19, 2017 earthquake.
Rodrigo Cervantes
People pass along buckets and supplies at an improvised camp in Coapa, Mexico City, to gather goods for the earthquake victims.
Rodrigo Cervantes - KJZZ
Sandwiches made by volunteers to feed earthquake survivors and rescuers outside a supermarket in Coapa, Mexico City.
Rodrigo Cervantes - KJZZ
People quietly wait for indications during rescue operations after the earthquake in Mexico City.

After Tuesday's devastating earthquake, one area of Mexico City suffered severe impacts. There, a school and a college have witnessed death and destruction, but also signs of solidarity and support.  

At least 250 people have died in Mexico after the earthquake, almost half of them in Mexico City. And plenty of people have also lost their place to live, to work, to study.

The sounds of rubble being removed remind one of the crumbling sounds of buildings collapsing the day before.

"That building is about to fall apart, please be careful and do not get close to it," instructed an anonymous volunteer during the rescue operations in Coapa. 

While some buildings fell immediately, some still standing are severely damaged, like the one the volunteer warned people about. It’s an apartment building with a facade cracked and tilted.

Coapa is in the south of Mexico City, and it is one of the most affected areas after the earthquake. Roads are closed and debris is here and there

And wherever you find damage, you will most probably find traffic brought by hundreds of citizens trying to help.

Some of them bring equipment. Others bring food, water or medical supplies.

Near one of the most terrifying scenes left by the earthquake, volunteers ask for oxygen tanks and medicine.

There’s a school that fell almost entirely, leaving several children, teenagers and adults trapped, injured and dead. It is very uncertain at this point how many are still buried at the Enrique Rebsamen School. Dozens of bodies have been pulled out of the rubble already, and fewer are found alive.

"Please be quiet and don't move!"

That instruction comes frequently at damaged areas where people are trying to save victims trapped in collapsed buildings. Rescuers need silence, either to communicate among them or to try to find any hint, any sound, that could prove that someone is alive under the debris.

"Sergio Hernández's family, attention, please," said a volunteer on a megaphone. "He's alive!"

The announcement comes outside of Rébsamen school, and everyone starts to clap. Volunteers cheer every time there’s a sign that someone has been found alive or has been rescued. Among them are also soldiers, policemen and rescue squads.

Some other volunteers focus on helping rescuers, too. Andrea Enriqueta, an animation student, prepared sandwiches with other volunteers outside a supermarket near the affected areas.

"We decided to donate our things to this place in which we are collecting and making bags of food, and this is how I ended up here," Enriqueta said.

Enriqueta’s college was also severely damaged — the Tec de Monterrey Mexico City Campus.

The facades of the Tec’s buildings show the scars of the earthquake. Some of them have holes, others lost some windows. Five students died here.

Like other places damaged by the earthquake, this university is trying to go back to normal as soon as possible. And among the people helping is Federico Rocha, a student still covered with dust.

"I took out three persons. One with life, two were dead, and it was a shock, really a shock for me because I wasn’t expecting to see that. It was, it was — horrible," Rocha said, shaking. He had been working for more than 24 hours and wanted to take a break.

Plenty of people try to help. Some ride in trucks, others on bikes. And others walk, like Elsa Camacho, who carries a cardboard sign offering support to people with nervous breakdowns.

"I'm a little nervous about the tense situation we're experiencing, but I think we can all help by doing the best we can do," she said. Camacho is a psychologist.

So, yes, there’s been sadness and grief in Mexico City. But most importantly: there’s been an amazing display of benevolence and kindness.