Dispatches from CDMX: The Work for Life Must Continue

A San Franciscan reports how last week's 7.1 earthquake caused widespread structural collapses throughout the Mexican capital.

Stephen Torres

This morning, L.A.’s KCRW’s played Skeeter Davis’ “It’s The End of the World” on its livestream, as a nod to the rantings of evangelicals and mystics alike — but here in México, the sentiment could feel very real.

Only a few hours earlier, at 7:53 a.m. Central time, I ran down the staircase again — along with the rest of the city — heeding the warning of the earthquake sirens, although the one directly outside my window wasn’t working this time. Standing outside on the Plaza Río de Janeiro in various states of undress and pajamas, everyone searched each other’s faces for some sort of confirmation of what had transpired. Was this another false alarm, like had happened last week before the Chiapas earthquake? Or was it another one either here or there?

(Stephen Torres)

As has been reported, the timing of this past Tuesday’s earthquake was traumatizing even before the reality of the devastation set in, because it occurred on the anniversary of the even more catastrophic one in 1985. That, coupled with the Chiapas earthquake on Sept. 7, has produced a sensation of constant dread and exhaustion.

For those who survived 1985, there is a PTSD that has never completely dissipated. One of the friends with whom I’ve been staying narrowly missed being crushed by her toppling home because she’d already left for school. (She was homeless for months after.) Each new aftershock and siren should be emotionally crippling. Yet, in this country, often lambasted as being full of criminals and lacking the infrastructure and preparedness of the United States, the resilience is strengthened, not weakened, by each tremor.

Each centro de acopio (support center) and excavation site is overflowing with capitalinos all over the city who, despite lack of sleep, food, and housing, have not given up on those around them or those who are still trapped inside or even dead. When rumors spread that the government was considering bringing in heavy equipment, the outcry was visceral. It was too soon; everyone should be accounted for first.

(Stephen Torres)

Such is the people’s response that many of the sites need to post on the hour that volunteers are not needed. They’re then re-routed to less central and more damaged sites — such as the heavily touristed Xochimilco, and areas surrounding the National Autonomous University, close to the travesty of the school in Villa Coapa. Many buildings are still in imminent danger of collapse, such as the iconic and long-abandoned Edificio Canada which now lists over the Avenida Insurgentes, one of the city’s most heavily trafficked boulevards and the longest in the Americas. Others, just a week ago the homes of hundreds if not thousands, will also likely fall.

It’s difficult to ascertain how much currency the disaster in the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco, Morelos, Puebla and CDMX have back home in San Francisco, but knowing my country in its current state — and the co-opting of media by a deranged federal administration — I’m not that hopeful. Japan, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Spain, Panama, Ecuador, and Israel have sent disaster relief, and my hometown of Los Angeles has sent its fire and disaster-relief teams, well-skilled in this sort of cataclysm.

Apparently, the White House also authorized the deployment of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, though with the latter, one wonders for how long. Not strangers to survival without benefit of assistance, the citizens of México don’t have time to be afraid or wait for neighbors that may or may not be home. The work for life must continue here in México. Even if it’s taking one brick out of a wall at a time.

 

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