Mexico City and the Triumphant Rise From the Ashes

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Mexico City

It is just a couple of days into 2018, and the tragedy that occurred in Mexico City is hardly erased from memories. It was not only a quake that rocked the world but a catastrophic event that brought a community together.

On Sept. 19, 2017, at 2:40 p.m., ET, a 7.1M earthquake hit only 120 km from Mexico City, ripping down structures and killing over 370 individuals and more than 6,000 were injured. With dust covering the city, thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those caught in the disaster.

“The scariest part was looking at the floor. It was jumping up and down.” Those were the words of financial journalist Vanessa Buendia. She feared for her life as her apartment started to crumble. Buendia barely made it out alive. Eyewitnesses mentioned that everything shook for about 20 seconds. However, for many observers it felt like 20 minutes.

It was only two weeks prior that another quake left over 100 dead. These corpses filled the country’s southern region. However, many Mexican citizens found the horrific event to be ironic. This was because the tremor unpredictably happened on the 32nd centennial of the 1985 Mexico City quake.

The Quake of 1985

Mexico is one of the world’s most seismically dynamic districts. It is a country that sits on a few crossing structural plates. For many who live there, know all too well that the outskirt between the Cocos Plate and North American Plate is an unforgiving area. It not only lies along the Pacific Coast of Mexico but makes a subduction zone that produces expansive and deadly seismic occasions.

Locals, who live among the edges of the Rivera and Caribbean, fear these seismic forces. In fact, they are so powerful that they can cause 40 quakes per day. However, it was just 32 years ago that these plates, on the morning of Sept. 19, produced an unexpected 8.0M earthquake.

Mexico City is a large metropolis built on a mass of an unstable dry lake bed. The soil is very soft and unpredictable. It is territory made up of unhinged sand and clay. According to the scientist, this sand and clay played a huge part in the destruction of the city.  This is because they help amplify the devastation these enormous earthquakes cause. These loose-fitting sediments slow the shockwave’s speed from 1.5 miles (2,414m) per second to around 150 feet (45,72m) per second.

Once this occurs, the shockwave’s amplitude increases. The force of the shockwave causes more violent shaking in the earth. To make matters worse, thicker and deeper soil layers boost bigger shockwave’s causing extensive damage.

In 1985, the citizens of Mexico City experienced this damage. At least 5,000 people were killed. The event also produced significant destruction to the Greater Mexico City area. The catastrophe caused nearly $4 billion in damage as 412 structures were obliterated entirely, and another 3,124 were severely destroyed in the city.

The city endured extensive casualties because of its massive size and the old lake bed that Mexico City sits on. Scientists said that the energy discharged was so intense that the disaster was equal to roughly 1,114 atomic bombs exploding. Moreover, the quake was so forceful that the seismic tremor was felt in Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California.

The New Quake

The 2017 quake might not have been as detrimental as the one in 1985, but it was still just as powerful. Paul Earle, the U.S. Topographical Survey seismologist, observed that the epicenters of the two tremors were 400 miles apart. The most delayed repercussions were about 60 kilometers.

“There have been 19 tremors of magnitude that were about 6.5 or bigger inside 250 kilometers of Tuesday’s shudder in the previous century,” Earle said. He went on to make the point that the planet typically has around 15 to 20 quakes this size or larger every year.

Initial estimations display that over 30 million individuals would have felt direct shaking from the quakes’ trembling. The U.S. Geological Survey forecasts, “critical loss and harm are likely, and the catastrophe is possibly far-reaching.” Another issue caused by the shake: Gas spills were all over the city, some of which brought about flames, as indicated by eyewitnesses.

Yet, in Mexico City, the horror was just beginning. It was not until nine days after the earthquake that more death reports were announced. The death toll reached at least 361. This number included the tragic demise of 26 students. One eyewitness reported the following:

The alarm sounded on the streets, but this time my building began swaying within seconds. I grabbed a bathroom door frame and hung on for the ride. Things in the room behind and in front of me began falling. Glass broke and spilled.

The Enrique C. Rébsamen school was demolished. In all, there were 38 bodies pulled from the rubble that included students and teachers. Other educational institutes were stricken as well. For instance, The Mexico City campus of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education underwent significant damage. Five dead bodies were pulled out of its rubble plus 40 injured.

Out of the Rubble

Many citizens reported that there was sorrow and fear in everyone. However, this did not hinder their heroic attempts to save lives. Eyewitnesses said that nothing was able to slow them down. Individuals, mainly the youthful, hurried with containers and buckets of water, scoops, pry bars, plastic cans, and food for workers, and pets alike. People from all walks all life contributed.

Several created chains to assist in passing down rubble from buildings. This was a success because it helped rescue thousands that were trapped. There were tons of supermarkets and restaurants destroyed by the quake. The damage was so bad that they were forced to stay closed because of the fear over gas leaks. Yet, citizens were still overwhelmed by the community’s generosity. Food and water were distributed despite the lack thereof.

As Mexico City continues to rise out of the ashes, it seems like they are sending a message to the world that they might be down for the moment, but out of the rubble they arise.

Written by Jomo Merritt
Edited by Jeanette Smith


ABC News: 7.1 magnitude quake kills 119 as buildings crumble in Mexico
Georgia Public Broadcasting: Powerful Earthquake Devastates Central Mexico, Leaving Dozens of Dead
Opinion: A Writer Remembers the Quake That Rocked Mexico City, And Brought Its People Together

Image by Presidencia de la República Mexicana Courtesy of Wikimedia – Creative Commons License