Mexico earthquake: Race to find survivors under collapsed school

Rescuers are racing against the clock to reach survivors trapped under the rubble of a school in Mexico City which collapsed during Tuesday’s earthquake.

One of them, a 13-year-old girl, is believed to be sheltering under a table, officials told the BBC.

At least 21 children and five adults died when the primary school collapsed and many others are missing.

The school was one of dozens of buildings toppled by the quake. So far 230 people are known to have died.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has declared three days of mourning for the victims.

As rescue operations continued for a second night, attention was focused on the Enrique Rébsamen primary school, in Mexico City’s southern Coapa district.

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With anxious parents gathered outside awaiting news of missing children, civil protection volunteer Enrique Gardia announced that a thermal scanner had detected survivors trapped between slabs of concrete.

“They are alive! Alive!” he shouted.

“Someone hit a wall several times in one place, and in another there was a response to light signals with a lamp,” he added.

One mother, standing nearby waiting for news of her seven-year-old daughter, told reporters: “No-one can possibly imagine the pain I’m in right now.”


At the scene: Efforts focus on trapped child

Paul Blake and Tona Cebada, BBC News, Mexico City

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Enrique Rébsamen school was brimming with hundreds of first responders, soldiers, doctors and even teachers racing against the clock to rescue people believed to still be alive beneath the collapsed classrooms.

From the roof of a school building opposite the classrooms, Mexico’s secretary of public education and a senior military officer were commanding the rescue operation, shouting orders over a tannoy.

At one point, a rescuer emerged from the rubble with a frantic query – there was a girl trapped, but alive, on what was a lower floor. Should rescuers focus efforts on her or continue searching other parts of the collapsed structure?

In pictures: Playground becomes ground zero

As anxious families looked on, the military officer shouted that rescuers should only focus on the trapped girl, and other areas within the structure would have to wait. Scores of workers sprang into action, labouring for hours to try to free the girl.

As night fell over Mexico City a steady rain began to fall. Search operations were slowed as workers spread tarpaulins over the rescue site. With the possibility that lives can still be saved, rescuers were battling to save any souls left beneath the rubble.


Interactive See how a Mexico City street looked before and after the quake

20 September 2017

Mexico City street after quake

March 2016

Mexico City street before quake

Waiting crowds were frequently hushed as workers listened for sounds of life under the rubble.

More than 500 members of the army and navy together with 200 police officers and volunteers have been working at the site.

Mexico City authorities kept hopes alive on Wednesday, saying 52 people had been rescued so far from collapsed buildings.

Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said 39 buildings in the capital had crumbled and search teams were scouring nearly all of them for survivors.

President Peña Nieto, visiting the damaged city of Jojutla in Morelos state, appealed for citizens to help rescue operations.

“It is important for people to be part of this group effort,” he said.

Most of the victims of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake died in the capital, according to government figures:

  • Mexico City: 100 dead
  • Morelos state: 69 dead
  • Puebla state: 43 dead
  • Mexico state: 13 dead
  • Guerrero: Four dead
  • Oaxaca: One dead

Meanwhile, police have stepped up patrols in areas hit by the quake to prevent vandalism and looting.

Schools in the affected states have suspended classes until Monday and all professional football fixtures have been cancelled for the weekend.

Offers of help have come from around the world.

El Salvador and Chile pledged aid while Israel said it would sending a team of rescue specialists.

The White House said President Donald Trump had called Mr Peña Nieto and offered search and rescue teams.

Mexico is no stranger to earthquakes and earlier this month an 8.1 magnitude tremor in the south left at least 90 people dead.

Tuesday’s tremor struck shortly after many people had taken part in an earthquake drill on the 32nd anniversary of a major quake that killed thousands in the capital.


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