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Mexico City: The Earthquake That Shook Us All

Mexico City becomes a City of Ashes after latest earthquakes

Legend tells that the Aztecs were advised by the gods that the place they were to settle would be marked by the site of an eagle devouring a serpent, perched on the prickles of a cactus. Indeed, the creature was seen on a marshy lake and ‘Tenochtitlan’ was born: the early beginnings of Mexico City.

To this day, Mexico’s heritage is woven into the fabrics of her flag but what Mexico City’s founders could not have known was that the city’s watery foundations would lead to her vulnerability to natural disaster.

This year, on the 19th September, Mexico City was rocked by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake. An earthquake of such severity occurs globally less than 20 times a year and the impact from such a monstrosity is always grievous. In Mexico City, hundreds were killed, and the earthquake showed no mercy to the living, who woke to the memory of lost loves, dead children and crumbled homes. The earthquake’s devastating effects will undoubtedly scar this generation of Mexicans: crippling society, economics and the environment.

“An earthquake does not say please. It does not say thank you. It takes and does not give.”

Thirty-two years ago to the day, the City saw an earthquake occur that killed thousands. Annual drills are held to commemorate those who suffered from that devastating attack. This year the drill was immediately followed by the ‘real thing’, leaving the city in a state of confusion as to why alarms were sounding again. Ironically, attempts at preparation left the city’s residents surprisingly vulnerable and unsuspecting.

An earthquake does not say please. It does not say thank you. It takes and does not give: but we will always find patterns in nature and rebuild order from chaos.

Naibi Aguilera Ancona, 21, is studying architecture at the ‘Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’. An hour away from the centre of the earthquake, Ancona said, “I am fine, my family is also fine but the city is very destroyed. There are a lot of fallen and damaged buildings, my school is damaged, there are cracks on the walls. There are people trapped under the rocks and some children who were in school were killed.”

“We also really need to use technology well to know about the structure of these buildings and make sure it is safe.”

Ancona also said, “so many people are coming together and its incredible. They are giving so much food, medicine, diapers and food for babies and even food for animals.” The aid being provided is encouraging, though Ancona shared with me a few pictures that really “broke her heart.”

As a student of architecture, Ancona mentioned that the earthquake, “made me really conscious to know what I’m building.” She described that, whilst artistry is an important element of planning the construction of a building, “we also really need to use technology well to know about the structure and make sure it is safe.”

M 8.1 – 87km SW of Pijijiapan, Mexico. Source: USGS.gov

“Buildings do fall and you are not God,” Ancona warns architects who have allowed pride or ego to compromise their adherence to safety regulations. “We cannot control it [when the earthquakes come] but we can do something to be prepared for them.”

On 7th September, before the capital trembled, Chiapas and Oaxaca were hit by
an 8.1-magnitude: one full magnitude higher than what Mexico City suffered. Baja California Sur was victim to another severe earthquake, just before Oaxaca suffered a second earthquake the following day, the 23rd September, with a magnitude of 6.1.

Ancona was horrified the morning of Oaxaca’s second earthquake and said, “We had another earthquake this morning and this is crazy. I’m still alive. But four earthquakes, four earthquakes. Over a three-week span. I don’t know, I’m like, ‘God, what’s going on, are you coming already?’”

These four earthquakes were most prevalent, but many more occurred in Mexico this month; amongst the inevitable smaller tremors of aftershocks.

Mexico City somehow eclipsed everything, and everything turns to them.

What do you say to someone who clings to the promise that ‘it is over’ only to see it happen again? “I’m sorry, I know you will not know what to say, you don’t have to say anything. I just needed to tell it to someone,” Ancona said.

Oaxaca’s damaged buildings and roads. Source: AP Photo

It’s heart-warming to see the communal efforts to get Mexico City back on her feet again. However, Ancona’s concern is for neighbouring south-eastern regions: “The whole country is helping Mexico City and that’s great but that didn’t happen two weeks ago when they had an earthquake in Oaxaca and Chiapas. Mexico City somehow eclipsed everything, and everything turns to them. It’s good that something’s being done, but Oaxaca and Chiapas are being incredibly forgotten in this super difficult time for them, especially because they are so poor.”

Ancona is particularly concerned for Oaxaca, describing a bridge that “just completely broke into two pieces.” She and a group of friends have made contact with a local church in Oaxaca and are going to travel there with food and supplies to do what they can to ease the suffering. “Something that really broke my heart is that they asked for temporary shelters because so many people are living on the street because they have no houses.”

If you want to support Mexico in this time of need, the following list will provide you with reliable sites:
1. Non-profit organization Topos (search and rescue team): http://www.topos.mx/
2. Mexican Red Cross: https://cruzrojadonaciones.org/

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