Tremor comes days after earthquake that killed more than 300
Rescue workers evacuate the place where they were working after a seismic alert sounded in Mexico City on 23 September, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. Photograph: Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
A powerful aftershock has caused panic as buildings again swayed in Mexico City just days after more than 300 were killed by the country’s deadliest earthquake for a generation.
Rescue and clean-up efforts were temporarily suspended on Saturday amid fears that unstable structures could collapse, causing further anguish for dozens of families whose relatives are still missing under the rubble.
Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless and entire areas rendered uninhabitable by last Tuesday’s devastating 7.1-magnitude tremor.
The earthquake wreaked havoc in parts of the capital, which is built on a drained lake bed, as more than 50 buildings – including a school, pharmaceutical lab, and clothes factory – collapsed. As many as 5,000 buildings were damaged.
More than half the dead – 160 – perished here in Mexico City, including 27 children. Overall, 105 victims were women and 55 men, according to the city’s mayor Miguel Angel Mancera.
At least eight foreigners are among the confirmed dead including four Taiwanese women, a Panamanian woman, and men from South Korea, Spain and Argentina.
Dozens of aftershocks registered across several states since Tuesday left the country on edge and jittery.
The epicentre of yesterday’s 6.1-magnitude aftershock was in the southern state of Oaxaca, which is still reeling from the 10 September earthquake that left a hundred dead and thousands homeless. Initial reports showed damaged buildings and a collapsed bridge, but no loss of life.
In the capital, hopes of finding survivors after five days are minimal and many rescue operations have now been called off – fuelling anger among relatives and volunteer workers, who want to keep searching. In the Colonia Obrera district, civilians have clashed with security forces at the site of the collapsed textiles factory, demanding rescue efforts continue despite official claims that there are no signs of life. There is no up to date list of workers, or building plans for the factory.
In the hipster La Roma area, relatives of dozens of office workers trapped under a multistorey building have accused the armed forces of obstructing the rescue operation and failing to provide accurate information.
Odeth Zuniga Gonzales, 36, a Red Cross paramedic, said she had treated dozens of volunteers and rescue workers from the collapsed office block for respiratory problems caused by gas leaks and dust and exhaustion.
Despite the risks, the disaster has triggered a remarkable response and energy among ordinary Mexicans, which shows no sign of slowing down. Volunteer-run aid centres – where donations of clothes, medicines, toiletries, tools, petrol and toys are dropped off, organised and dispatched to affected communities, shelters and rescue sites – continue to operate in streets, parks, schools and churches across the country. The outpouring of generosity has lifted spirits even as anger mounts at the slow official response in some of the worst affected areas.
Victims in Xochimilco, one of the capital’s poorest municipalities where electricity and water supplies have been severely damaged, accuse city and national governments of ignoring their plight – a charge rejected by the authorities.
The paramedic Gonzales, like many people, is frustrated by the lack of official help to small poor communities outside the capital.
“We should be doing so much more in Morelos, but these communities are forgotten. People could be injured in the rubble but no-one is looking for them, it’s so frustrating, it makes me angry.”
At least 20,000 homes suffered damage in Morelos and Puebla, yet some communities are still struggling to obtain basic tools – shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows – to begin excavating the debris.
The bishop of Cuernavaca city, the capital of Morelos state, publicly condemned the state governor for diverting aid trucks to government run warehouses away from the directly affected communities.
Last week’s earthquake struck 32 years to the day since the country’s deadliest quake, which killed thousands and flattened large parts of the capital. Residents endured years of misery while Mexico City was slowly rebuilt, while many fled to other states out of fear.
Ironically, 170 families left homeless in 1985 were finally rehoused this month as part of a programme targeting the so-called forgotten families.
Detailed inspections of the buildings damaged this time round will start in earnest on Monday, but reconstruction could again take years.
Eloise Tamayo, 72, a retired nurse, lived on the fourth floor of a five-storey building in the Del Valle neighbourhood. She returned home to find shattered windows, cracked walls and her dog, Moni, cowering in a corner. They are staying in a makeshift shelter at a local school.
“I’m too scared to go home, I don’t want to leave here and be alone, the aftershock frighten me,” Tamayo said. “The ’85 earthquake was worse, but this one came close.”