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article image21 children among 149 dead in powerful Mexico quake

By Sofia MISELEM, Joshua Howat BERGER (AFP)     Sep 19, 2017 in Environment

At least 149 people were killed when a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday, including 21 children crushed beneath an elementary school that was reduced to rubble.

The destruction revived horrific memories in Mexico on the anniversary of another massive quake in 1985, the disaster-prone country's deadliest ever.

One of the most gut-wrenching scenes was at the Enrique Rebsamen primary school on Mexico City's south side, whose three floors collapsed into one, trapping students and teachers inside.

Twenty-one children and four adults were killed, said deputy education minister Javier Trevino.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who rushed to the site, warned the death toll could rise.

This handout photo released by the Presidential House press office shows Mexican President Enrique P...
This handout photo released by the Presidential House press office shows Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (C) visiting the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen primary school in Mexico City
HO, AFP

"There are 30 children and eight adults still missing. Rescue operations are ongoing," he told journalists.

Local media reports said soldiers had located one child alive beneath the ruins. They administered oxygen through a tube, but were so far unable to extract him.

The devastation struck across a swath of central states.

There were 49 dead in Mexico City, 32 in Puebla, 55 in Morelos, 12 in Mexico state and one in Guerrero, said Luis Felipe Puente, head of the disaster management agency.

Rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City -- home to 20 million people -- clawed through the rubble of at least 49 collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.

Local media reported that families were getting WhatsApp messages pleading for help from desperate relatives trapped under debris.

Memories of the devastating 1985 earthquake, which killed at least 10,000 people, surged to the surface on what was meant to be a low-key 32nd anniversary.

Adding to the national sense of vulnerability, the quake also came just 12 days after another that killed nearly 100 people and left more than 200 injured, mainly in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Many in the capital quickly ran for safety outdoors when walls around them swayed and cracked.

"I'm so worried. I can't stop crying. It's the same nightmare as in 1985," Georgina Sanchez, 52, sobbed to AFP in a plaza in the capital.

The quake -- which occurred in the early afternoon, hours after city authorities had conducted an earthquake drill -- caused massive damage in the bustling center of the city.

"It was horrible," said resident Leiza Visaj Herrera, 27. "I had to hold on to the ground."

Rescuers search for survivors amid the rubble of a collapsed building
Rescuers search for survivors amid the rubble of a collapsed building
YURI CORTEZ, AFP

Scenes of chaos erupted in the quake's aftermath. Traffic jammed to a standstill before blanked-out stop lights, and anxious people ran between vehicles as ambulances tried to make headway, sirens blaring.

In several locations, large crowds of people clambered on buildings that were now piles of stone and tangled metal, trying to pull people out.

Emergency workers held up signs commanding "Silence" so crews could listen for the sounds of any survivors.

- 'Everyone was frantic' -

A person rescued from the rubble gets medical assistance in Mexico City after Tuesday's powerfu...
A person rescued from the rubble gets medical assistance in Mexico City after Tuesday's powerful quake
Alfredo ESTRELLA, AFP

Jorge Lopez, a 49-year-old Spaniard living in Mexico City, said he raced to his children's school in the central Roma district, to find it collapsed but his offspring safe but terrified.

"We arrived at the school and everyone was crying, everyone was frantic, and the kids were holding on to a rope," he said.

People look through debris of a building that collapsed in a powerful earthquake that shook Mexico C...
People look through debris of a building that collapsed in a powerful earthquake that shook Mexico City
YURI CORTEZ, AFP

Patients were evacuated from a nearby hospital, wheeled out on beds and wheelchairs.

Pena Neto said on Twitter he had ordered the evacuation of damaged hospitals.

At one collapsed building in the Roma district, dozens of people dug through rubble as they waited for the arrival of heavy machinery to move the massive chunks of stone. Officials called out for more volunteers, and for water.

Rescuers use a crane to search for survivors in a building severely damaged by Mexico's earthqu...
Rescuers use a crane to search for survivors in a building severely damaged by Mexico's earthquake
YURI CORTEZ, AFP

A woman standing and watching the efforts with her husband, a doctor, turned to him and said, "Darling, if you want to help, go ahead. Just give me your glasses, and be careful."

Mexico City's international airport closed for more than three hours following the quake. The stock market was forced to shut.

Fearful residents whose homes were damaged were preparing to spend the night on the street or in parks.

On the clogged and darkened roads, muggers came out at night to assault motorists.

- Trump's prayers -

Officials in several other countries responded to the quake with offers of help.

Honduras sent a 36-strong rescue team.

US President Donald Trump, who has forged an antagonistic relationship with Mexico, tweeted: "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you."

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, tweeted: "Devastating news from Mexico City. My thoughts are with those affected by today's earthquake -- Canada will be ready to help our friends."

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray responded by saying "Mexico sincerely thanks the displays of international solidarity that we are receiving."

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