First Person

An eyewitness account as the earthquake hit Mexico, and the urgent hours that followed

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Rescue workers are struggling around the clock to get people out of collapsed buildings in Mexico City. Photo: Karl Byrnison/Oxfam México

Oxfam’s director in Mexico describes the earthquake, and the initial response in Mexico City.

Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva, Oxfam’s director in Mexico, was interviewed by Sky News hours after the earthquake. Here are excerpts of his description of the disaster:

“I was home when the earthquake struck, and it was quite an experience. I had to … rush down four flights of stairs and push through a garage door that was a bit jammed, and then I was able to make it to the street.  As I was running down the stairs…with my sister, who was in my apartment at that time too, we almost lost our balance… It was like being on a massive boat on the high seas, it was moving like that.

“We crossed the street and there was a small square in front of my apartment building, and you could see these buildings moving like punch-drunk fighters and crashing against each other, that was one of the scariest moments.

“Then, after an hour or so, what started happening was this self-organization of Mexican society trying to get the food for rescue workers, trying to get the tools for these rescue workers, and trying to get any survivors under the rubble out in time. I went to bed around 4:30 a.m. and still there were people working in different sites. There were more than 40 buildings collapsing in Mexico City, and still more partially collapsed. At 4:30 a.m., there were still people working, trying to find survivors. And as the new day breaks, there are different rounds of volunteers replacing the people who had been working all night long. The focus is on the people under the rubble. There’s a sense of urgency for that.

Need to make sure people are safe

“As days go by, many people will need appropriate shelter, with food and water and sanitation, and where the rights of people are preserved and upheld. That’s the second part of the response, one that worries us. We know for instance, last night there were more than two million people in Mexico City without electricity and there were already some shelters, but they were makeshift, which is what you can do in 10 hours with a population this size.

“In the long term, we need to make sure people are safe, especially in more marginalized areas. So Mexico City is getting all this attention, but there are many communities outside, in the neighboring states that also suffered, like Morelos or Puebla, or the State of Mexico, that have suffered tremendously from this earthquake, and I think we need to pay attention to that. On top of that, we had the earthquake on September 7, which affected heavily indigenous communities in the southern part of Mexico, in Oaxaca and Chiapas.”

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