THE Archbishop of Canterbury was among the religious leaders to “unite in grief” and solidarity with the people of Mexico, after a powerful earthquake killed at least 237 people and trapped hundreds more on Tuesday afternoon.
The magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck the capital, Mexico City, and surrounding region at about 1 p.m. (local time). Hundreds of people were crushed or trapped by crumbling offices, schools, and tower blocks.
Rescue teams worked into the night to extract victims from the rubble, including 21 children who died when their primary school collapsed. One of the pupils at the school was rescued on Thursday, however, after wriggling her hand through the rubble, raising hopes for 30 more still unaccounted for.
Archbishop Welby tweeted on Wednesday: “Praying in lament and solidarity with all those affected by the terrible #MexicoCity earthquake.”
Pope Francis expressed his sorrow. He told crowds in St Peter’s Square, Rome: “Here among you there are many Mexicans; the earthquake has caused casualties and material damage, and in this moment of pain I express my closeness to the whole Mexican population.”
It was the second serious earthquake to hit the country in a fortnight, and the most devastating since the violent magnitude 8.0 earthquake in 1985, which killed about 10,000 people and destroyed as many homes.
The aid agency World Vision was among the first to respond on Tuesday, having been on the ground in wake of the earthquake on 7 September which killed more than 90 people (News, 15 September). The agency reported that thousands of people had fled into the streets in fear of further tremors as buildings swayed in the aftermath. Parents had rushed to collect their children from their schools.
The communications manager for World Vision in Mexico, Victor Martinez, lives in eastern Mexico City. “I was at home when I felt this tremendous shaking,” he said. “That led to an intense set of horrifying shocks. The floor felt like it was jumping up and down. The walls began rumbling and I knew I had to get out of the building. People were terrified.”
The charity reported that it was working closely with the Mexican government to assess the situation. “We are most concerned about children, who can be terrified by events like these that can destroy places they love and leave them deeply unsettled,” a spokeswoman said on Tuesday night.
The states of Morelos, Puebla, Tlaxcala, Guerrero, and Oaxaca were among the worst affected. Mr Martinez reported on Wednesday that 40 per cent of homes in areas close to the epicentre were without power, while more than 44 buildings had collapsed.
“Right now, we are deploying our staff to the worst-affected areas of the capital, as well as Puebla and Morelos, to help with the rescue effort. Teams of volunteers are on the ground, removing rubble piece by piece. Our priority is to save lives.”
The tremors also triggered a small eruption from an active volcano, Popocatépetl, located in the states of Puebla, Mexico, and Morelos. The Governor of Puebla, José Antonio Gali, reported that Santiago Apostol, a church on the slopes of the volcano in the town of Atzitzihuacán, collapsed during mass, killing 15 people, including 11 relatives who were attending a Baptism. The only survivors were the father of the baby, the priest, and the priest’s assistant, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Puebla reported on Wednesday.
The RC Bishops of Mexico issued a statement on Wednesday praising the solidarity of the people, and calling on the international community to unite with them in their grief. It was signed by the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal José Francisco Robles, President of the Mexican Episcopal Conference, and its secretary-general, the Auxiliary Bishop of Monterrey, the Rt Revd Alfonso G. Miranda Guardiola.
“Once again, we are witnessing the solidarity of the people of Mexico, who see their brother in the one who suffers. Thousands of hands have formed chains of life to rescue, feed, [and provide relief] in the face of emergency.”