Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lucky Mexico: 7.9 Earthquake

article from March 22, 2012
By Jamie Douglas

As one who was in Mexico City 48 hours after the disastrous quake in 1985, I was extremely concerned when I heard the first reports of a 7.9 earthquake hitting the home of the Distrito Federal. As sometimes happens, first reports do not convey the full extent of a catastrophe like the one in 1985. It was through a network of HAM radio operators that I first received word and, together with a friend, set out from Brownsville in a station wagon loaded to the hilt with bandages, sutures, plaster cast materials, antibiotics and whatever else the good people from the region donated when we urged them to bring supplies to the international bridge, where we were waiting to depart.

Nothing could have prepared us for what we encountered when we got to Mexico City. The destruction was amazing and a layer of dust still hung over the city. Individual citizens were still digging by hand in the ruins looking for loved ones. Just like the earthquake that shook the nation a couple of days ago, it was centered off the coast of Guerrero state, and Mexico City, being built over an old lake bed, suffered the most, as soil liquefaction caused many of the tall buildings to lean and collapse.

There were scenes of absolute horror everywhere, most hospitals were destroyed and there was no water or electricity, so when nightfall came, there was just an eerie collection of fires burning in the street and one could still hear the cries of some of the buried victims.

When I first heard about the current seismic event, it was from friends in Michoacán who related the severity of the shaking, while at the same time assuring me that there was little damage. As the reports started coming in from the D.F., it became clear that, at least for the moment, the megalopolis was intact. Obviously, strict new building codes put in place when 1985’s rebuilding began saved the day.

The Mexican newspaper El Universal stated today that the damages were hovering at about Mex$45 million, and likely to go up some, but Marcelo Ebrard, the head of government of the D.F. announced that most of the damages were covered by insurance. As of last night, March 21, 99% of electricity has been restored, 300,000 households were still without water and a force of workers were repairing the A Line of the subway, where approximately 120 meters (400 feet) of track has been displaced by the massive seismic event.

Overall, for an event of this magnitude, things are returning to normal quite rapidly, the streets have been cleared of most debris and fortunately, aside from a few isolated but sometime serious injuries from falling bricks and mortar, there has not been one single fatality reported.

The countryside nearer to the epicenter is mostly made up of small towns, many of the buildings being mud bricks. But since the 1985 quake, much more steel-reinforced concrete is in use, which was able to resist the force of the tremor. The epicenter was about 100 km straight east of Acapulco. The governor of Guerrero state announced that about 800 dwellings were destroyed, but there were no casualties there or in neighboring Oaxaca state, where US President Barack Obama’s daughter Malia was on a class trip.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.