TPM World News

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Every night since Hurricane Maria hit, Miguel Martinez and his family have slept on mattresses on the porch to escape the heat inside their dark, stifling home. But it’s nearly impossible to sleep with temperatures in the high 70s.

At least once a night they climb to the roof to catch a hint of breeze. Then the 51-year-old construction worker, his three children and one grandchild climb back down again.

“It’s a heat from hell,” Martinez said. “We don’t have a generator or a fan. We have nothing. The children get desperate. You want just a little bit of cold water, but there’s none.”

The power is still out on nearly all of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria smashed poles, snarled power lines and flooded electricity-generating plants, knocking out a grid that was already considered antiquated compared to the U.S. mainland. Generators are providing power to the fortunate few who have them, but nearly all the island’s 1.6 million electricity customers were still without power Monday and facing many, many hot days and dark nights to come.

Power had been restored to a handful of hospitals and surrounding areas by Monday afternoon but Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario said it will take months to fully restore power to the island.

Authorities are still figuring out the extent of the damage, let alone beginning to repair it.

Utility workers from New York have arrived to help assess the damage, while airplanes and barges are bringing in more generators.

Getting the power back isn’t just a matter of comfort. A long delay will mean even more pain for a Puerto Rican economy that’s already reeling from a decade-long recession. With no power, even more people will leave the island to find better opportunities on the mainland and further drain its workforce. The downed power system is also damaging the tourism industry, which contributed 8 percent to Puerto Rico’s economy last year.

The overwhelming smell of rotting garbage wafted through a working-class part of the Santurce section of San Juan, where 46-year-old construction worker Rafael Santana spent the night in front of a single fan thanks to a neighbor with a generator who was kind enough to throw over a cable so he could have power from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m.

By 8 a.m., Santana’s forehead was beaded with sweat as he left home to seek out some shade nearby.

Roberto Ruiz, a 50-year-old handyman, handed a chilled bottle of water that his daughter brought home from her job, which has power, to a neighbor seeking something to drink.

“Look at this! Cold water!” exclaimed 70-year-old Jose Luis Burgos as he took the bottle and looked at it, mesmerized. “We are suffering here.”

Ruiz said he jumps into the shower several times a day to cool off, letting water drip over his body instead of drying off afterward. He also leaves his windows open, which led to another problem: “Now the mosquitoes don’t leave me alone.”

Most people have thrown open their doors and windows, anxious to feel a breeze amid the oppressive heat.

Six-month-old Rafshliany Cortijo wore only diapers as she sat in a swing placed in an open doorway. She smiled as she slowly swung back and forth.

“I bathe her six times a day,” said Franchesca Rivera, the baby’s 31-year-old mother. “She sweats a lot.”

Mother and daughter sleep on the porch at night along with Rivera’s son to stave off the heat since they don’t have a generator or a battery-powered fan.

Nelida Morales, a 49-year-old nanny, said her house becomes an oven during the day because three big trees that once shaded it were uprooted by the storm.

“We can’t go to the rivers because of floodwaters. And the beach is out of reach,” Morales said as sweat beaded on her upper lip.

Puerto Rico’s power plants were not severely damaged, according to Gov. Ricardo Rossello. However, 80 percent of the island’s transmission lines are down, and Rossello said it would take up to two years to completely rebuild the infrastructure under normal conditions. He said the plan is to restore power with some quick fixes to the network and then gradually strengthen it to avoid problems like blackouts and make it less vulnerable to future storms.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, has more than 2,400 miles of major transmission lines and more than 30,000 miles of smaller distribution wires that connect homes and businesses to the grid. Much of the network is down.

Officials hoped to use helicopters and drones to get a better look and help them decide where to send repair crews first.

Unlike Texas and Florida, where Hurricanes Harvey and Irma knocked out power grids this summer, workers from other utilities on the U.S. mainland can’t hop in trucks and drive to Puerto Rico. By Monday afternoon the main airport in San Juan was not yet operating normally, which is slowing the airlift of crews, generators and other equipment.

Even before Maria hit, the power authority said it needed more than $4 billion to upgrade its infrastructure after years of under-investment left it with an inefficient and unreliable system. Its fleet of power plants has a median age of 44 years; the average age across the United States is 18 years.

The power authority already had more than $9 billion in debt when it filed for what is essentially bankruptcy protection in July. It was weakened by the island’s long recession, which sapped demand for electricity, but it also struggled to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid bills.

Last year, consultants hired by the Puerto Rico Energy Commission wrote a scathing report about the power authority, noting that outages occurred four or five times more often than at mainland U.S. utilities because of a history of neglecting maintenance.

“It is difficult to overstate the level of disrepair or operational neglect at PREPA’s generation facilities,” wrote consultants from Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They said that frequently there were “simple failures that blossom into crises.”

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — As many as 360 buildings and homes are in danger of collapse or with major damage in Mexico City nearly a week after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake completely collapsed 38 structures.

The risk of delayed collapse is real: The cupola of Our Lady of Angels Church, damaged and cracked by the Sept. 19 quake, split in half and crashed to the ground Sunday evening. There were no injuries.

Nervous neighbors continued calling in police on Monday as apparently new cracks appeared in their apartment blocks or existing ones worsened, even as the city struggled to get back to normality.

Officials said they had cleared only 103 of Mexico City’s nearly 9,000 schools to reopen Monday and said it could be two to three weeks before all were declared safe — leaving hundreds of thousands of children idle.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said at least seven schools were among the buildings thought to be at risk of tumbling.

At several points in the city, employees gathered on sidewalks in front of their workplaces Monday refusing to enter, because they feared their buildings could collapse.

“We are afraid for our own safety,” said Maribel Martinez Ramirez, an employee of a government development agency who, along with dozens of coworkers, refused to enter their workplace Monday. “The building is leaning, there are cracks.”

Mancera said 360 “red level” buildings would either have to be demolished or receive major structural reinforcement. Another 1,136 were reparable, and 8,030 of the buildings inspected so far were found to be habitable.

Search teams were still digging through dangerous piles of rubble Monday, hoping against the odds to find survivors. The city has accounted for 186 of the 325 dead nationwide.

On Sunday, marines retried what is believed to be the last body from a collapsed school on the city’s south side where a total of 26 people — 7 adults and 19 children — were crushed by a fallen wing of the school.

But like at other sites where there is little likelihood of finding anyone alive, the marines vowed to continue searching — avoiding use of demolition or heavy machinery — until “there is full certainty, duly certified by the appropriate authorities, that there is nobody left, alive or dead, in the collapsed building.

Still, the smell of rotting corpses increasingly hung over the largest remaining search site near the city’s center.

While no one has been found alive since Wednesday, relatives of the trapped, anxious to cling to any hope of rescue, won injunctions against actions that could cause the ruins to collapse further.

The federal judiciary council said Sunday that court injunctions for seven points around the city prevent authorities from using backhoes or bulldozers to remove rubble, in order to allow “search and rescue operations to continue …. to preserve the life of people who may be among the remains of the structures.”

As darkness fell Sunday, prayers were held by families of the missing who have been gathered near the collapsed office building near downtown.

Hugo Luna, whose cousin Erika Gabriela Albarran was believed trapped in the fallen building, complained that officials had not immediately informed families when two bodies were removed Saturday night. “There is a lot of distrust of authorities,” he said.

His aunt, who was also inside the building when the quake hit but escaped, is traumatized, he said.

“Nothing happened to her, but now she has panic attacks,” Luna said. “You open the door, she hears a noise and she gets scared.”

One by one, other searches have closed down in recent days, after sniffer dogs were sent in and didn’t find life and thermal imaging devices turned up no body heat signatures. Heavy machinery moved in to begin removing the mountains of debris. Empty lots began to appear where just days ago a building stood.

Isaac Garcia, spokesman for the neighbors on the southern side of the city, said they had maintained a good relationship with the navy and civil defense authorities running the search. But he said they obtained the injunction “to make sure that we had something based in law to protect us.”

Their hopes were kindled slightly Sunday when members of a Japanese search and rescue team pulled a small white dog alive from the rubble, cradling and petting it as they brought it down.

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Search teams were still digging in dangerous piles of rubble Monday, hoping against the odds to find survivors at collapsed buildings in Mexico City, where the death toll from the Sept. 19 earthquake rose to 186, and 324 nationwide.

Officials said they had cleared only 103 of Mexico City’s nearly 9,000 schools to reopen Monday.

The need to inspect 98 percent of the capital’s public and private schools nearly a week after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake killed at least 182 people in the city and 138 in nearby states was a stark indicator of just how long the path back to normalcy will be.

Federal Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno said it could take a couple more weeks to inspect all of the schools, and the government will announce each day which schools have been cleared to resume classes. For schools found to have structural damage, students could be put in temporary classrooms.

“For the safety of the boys, the girls, the teachers and for the peace of mind, of course, of all the fathers and all the mothers, all schools will be inspected,” Nuno said.

Rescue operations aimed at finding living survivors remained active in at least three sites in Mexico City — two apartment buildings and an office building — but hope dimmed every time rescuers had to retreat due to instability of debris. But no one has been found alive since Wednesday, when a woman was pulled from debris.

As darkness fell Sunday, prayers were held by families who have been gathered near the collapsed office hoping missing relatives will be found. A crowd of onlookers watching swelled, and so did the number of volunteer workers. Teachers at one corner tried to entertain children of some of the waiting families. There also appeared to be more people offering psychological support.

Hugo Luna, whose cousin Erika Gabriela Albarran was believed trapped in the fallen building, complained that officials had not immediately informed families when two bodies were removed Saturday night. “There is a lot of distrust of authorities,” he said.

His aunt, who was also inside the building when the quake hit but escaped, is traumatized, he said.

“Nothing happened to her, but now she has panic attacks,” Luna said. “You open the door, she hears a noise and she gets scared.”

For the family of Adrian Moreno, a missing 26-year-old human resources worker at an accounting firm, the emotional roller coaster is getting to be too much. Moreno’s mother had a look of anguish and largely stopped being able to speak. His boyfriend, Dario Hernandez, also looked lost, his gaze tear-stained and unfocused.

“Just hearing the earthquake alarm was horrible,” Hernandez said of a siren that rang during a 6.1 quake Saturday morning that was an aftershock of an even bigger temblor that struck in southern Mexico on Sept. 7.

Looking at the huge pile of rubble, Hernandez started to comment. “Something moves and …,” he said, his voice trailing away at the unspeakable thought that the whole pile could suddenly collapse.

“There is a lot of nervousness, a lot of desperation,” he finally said. “… This is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life, the worst.”

A total of 38 buildings in the Mexican capital — mostly apartment blocks or office buildings — collapsed in Tuesday’s earthquake.

The first days saw a dramatic scramble with picks, shovels and bare hands to reach survivors, and well over 100 were saved.

Thousands of people are homeless because their houses or apartment buildings, while still standing, are too dangerous.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said 7,649 damaged properties had been examined so far and 87 percent were deemed safe, needing only minor repairs. But that means nearly 1,000 were found uninhabitable — and the number seemed likely to rise as more are inspected.

One by one the searches have closed down in recent days, after sniffer dogs were sent in and didn’t find life and thermal imaging devices turned up no body heat signatures. Heavy machinery moved in to begin removing the mountains of debris. Empty lots began to appear where just days ago a building stood.

At one of the collapsed apartment buildings still being searched, members of a Japanese search and rescue team pulled a small white dog from the rubble alive Sunday, cradling and petting it as they brought it down.

The dog’s rescue gave hope to residents and neighbors of the building who successfully got an injunction from a judge Saturday night requiring the rescue operation continue for at least five more days.

Isaac Garcia, spokesman for the neighbors, said the injunction was a precautionary measure to make sure the search continues at the site wrecked by Tuesday’s earthquake.

He said residents and neighbors had maintained a good relationship with the navy and civil defense authorities running the search operation at the site. But, Garcia said, “We wanted to make sure that we had something based in law to protect us.”

Back at the collapsed office building, volunteer rescue worker Johny Yebra said the smell of death was now heavy directly atop the rubble heap, and by Sunday afternoon occasional gusts of wind were blowing it outside the immediate search site.

“All of us are doing the most we can,” Yebra said.

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the new, magnitude 6.1 temblor was centered about 11 miles (18 kilometers) south-southeast of Matias Romero in the state of Oaxaca, which was the region most battered by a magnitude 8.1 quake on Sept. 7.

It swayed buildings and set off a seismic alarm in the capital, promping civil defense officials to temporarily suspend rescue operations in the rubble of buildings downed by Thursday’s magnitude 7.1 quake in central Mexico.

That quake dimmed activity in the stylish Condesa neighborhood, where young revelers typically spill out from dimly lit bars and restaurants on a Friday night. But the first weekend since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake toppled buildings just blocks away began on a somber note.

Instead of crowds gathered with beers, small handfuls of rescue workers still dressed in reflective vests took breaks from digging through rubble. Entire restaurants with white linen tables were empty. Metal gates shuttered others.

“It feels lifeless,” said Mariana Aguilar, 27, a hostess at a bar and restaurant who stood waiting for guests yet to arrive. “I walk through these streets every day and you never imagine something like this would happen.”

The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit by the quake that killed at least 295 people, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week.

“The city is still quite tense,” said Israel Escamilla, an engineer, as he sipped a plastic cup filled with Coke at an empty bar. “But as good Mexicans we have to keep lending support however we can.”

As rescue operations stretched into Day 5, residents throughout the city held out hope that dozens still missing might be found alive. More than half the dead —157 — perished in the capital, while another 73 died in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico State, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

Along a 60-foot stretch of a bike lane in Mexico City’s downtown, families huddled under tarps and donated blankets Friday, awaiting word of loved ones trapped in the four-story-high pile of rubble behind them.

“There are moments when you feel like you’re breaking down,” said Patricia Fernandez Romero, who was waiting for word on the fate of her 27-year-old son. “And there are moments when you’re a little calmer. … They are all moments that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

Along the bike lane, where families slept in tents, accepting food and coffee from strangers, people have organized to present a united front to authorities, who they pressed ceaselessly for information.

They were told that water and food had been passed along to at least some of those trapped inside. On Friday morning, after hours of inactivity blamed on rain, rescuers were readying to re-enter the site, joined by teams from Japan and Israel. Fernandez said officials told them they knew where people were trapped on the fourth floor.

It’s the moments between those bits of information that torment the families.

“It’s that you get to a point when you’re so tense, when they don’t come out to give us information,” she said. “It’s so infuriating.”

Jose Gutierrez, a civil engineer attached to the rescue who has a relative trapped in the wreckage, gathered other families of the missing to let them know what was going on.
“My family is in there. I want them to get out,” Gutierrez said, his voice breaking. “So … we go onward.”

A roller coaster of emotions played out on Friday for Roberta Villegas Miguel, who was awaiting word of her 37-year-old son, Paulino Estrada Villegas, an accountant who worked on the fourth floor and is married with two young daughters.

Wrapped in a fuzzy turquoise blanket against the morning chill she said that her daughter-in-law was contacted by a friend who said she had received a call from a cell number that belonged to her son, but there was no conversation. Her daughter-in-law ran to authorities with the information, but hours later returned to say that it was her husband’s old cell number. At first they held out hope that he had given his old phone’s SIM card to a co-worker who was using it to call out of the building. But eventually authorities traced the call to Queretaro state, extinguishing that glimmer of hope.

The arrival of rain late Thursday and the resulting work suspension drove Villegas’ optimism down. But Friday morning the arrival of the Japanese rescuers buoyed her once again.

“We want to be hopeful,” Villegas said. “We don’t want to lose faith.”

Meanwhile, the time was nearing for bulldozers to be brought in to clear rubble and replace the delicate work of rescuers, though officials went to great pains to say it was still a rescue operation.

National Civil Defense chief Luis Felipe Puente acknowledged that backhoes and bulldozers were starting to clear away some wrecked buildings where no life has been detected or where teetering piles of rubble threatened to collapse on neighboring structures.

“It is false that we are demolishing structures where there could be survivors,” Puente said. “The rescue operations will continue, and they won’t stop.”

The long week’s torment weighing heavy on rescuers and residents alike, several of those gathered Friday night in Condesa said memories of the quake and worries for neighbors and victims were hard to escape.

Dionicio Pelaez, 57, the owner of a bike shop who has been helping collect donations, played pool with a dozen other men at a mostly empty restaurant. He said many of his neighbors lost their apartments.

“We came to distract ourselves a bit,” he said, his voice shaking. “This place is always full Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Now it’s empty.”

Read More →

PARIS (AP) — French far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon rallied disaffected voters Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to weaken worker protections, amid spreading discontent with Macron’s vision of a more business-friendly economy.

Thousands gathered at the iconic Place de la Bastille for a march through eastern Paris, including Melenchon supporters, environmental activists, anti-capitalism campaigners and others just seeking an outlet for their frustration with France’s new, young president. Melenchon’s Defiant France party said it bused in protesters from more than 150 French towns.

A huge balloon on top of a truck read “Macron, Resign!”

The protesters’ anger is centered on labor decrees that Macron signed Friday reducing French unions’ influence over workplace rules and making it easier for companies to fire workers. Macron says the change is needed so France can compete in the global economy. Opponents say he is dismantling the French lifestyle.

Melenchon, seeking to position himself as France’s leading opposition figure after a strong fourth-place showing in this year’s presidential election, wants the labor law decrees withdrawn.

The protesters are also angry at what Melenchon calls the “authoritarian” way Macron imposed the reforms. He used a special procedure allowing the government to change labor law by executive order instead going through a lengthy debate to pass a bill in parliament.

Macron said during the signing ceremony Friday that the first labor measures will start being applied next week, and all will be implemented by the end of the year.
Among the most contested reforms is one that caps the financial penalties awarded by courts for wrongful dismissals. Another eases regulations governing when and why companies can dismiss workers.

Macron lauded the “unprecedented wave of changes” to France’s social model, along with changes to unemployment benefits and a training plan for jobless people that will be set up next year.

While Macron shone at the U.N. General Assembly in New York last week and has made a strong mark on the international stage, he has struggled with myriad critics at home.

Farmers, riot police and carnival workers have also held protests in recent weeks over work policy changes under Macron, and truckers plan road blockades on Monday.

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Survivors are still being pulled from rubble in Mexico City as rescue operations stretch into a fourth day Friday, spurring hope among desperate relatives gathered at the sites of buildings collapsed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

Mexico’s federal police said several people were lifted out of the debris of two buildings Thursday. Rescuers removed or broke through slabs until they found cracks that allowed workers to wiggle through to reach the victims, then lift them to safety. The city government said 60 people in all had been rescued since the quake hit at midday Tuesday.

Still, with the hours passing, fewer of the living were being found, and the official death toll rose to 273 in Mexico City and several nearby states, with 137 of those in the capital.

The time was nearing when rescuers would be replaced by bulldozers to clear rubble, but officials went to great pains to say it was still a rescue operation.

The federal civil defense director, Luis Felipe Puente, acknowledged that backhoes and bulldozers were starting to clear away some wrecked buildings where no one had been detected or where teetering piles of rubble threatened to collapse on neighboring structures.

“It is false that we are demolishing structures where there could be survivors,” Puente said. “The rescue operations will continue, and they won’t stop.”

Those who witnessed the buildings collapse said the tragedy could have been much worse. Some buildings didn’t fall immediately, giving people time to escape, and some shattered but left airspaces where occupants survived.

In other cases, the salvation seemed almost miraculous.

Security guard Felix Giral Barron said that after the quake started, he had time to run and tell people to evacuate his building. Then an entire apartment building across the street crumbled and a big tank of heating gas on its slid off, but didn’t explode.

“The 550-pound (250-kilogram) gas tank got caught by the trees on the street, and that prevented it from exploding,” he said.

What was not miraculous was the disappearance of one of the most dearly held hopes, the belief that a small girl trapped in a collapsed school had been contacted by rescuers.

Since early Wednesday, the nation’s attention had been glued to the search for her in the rubble of the school in southern Mexico City. Rescuers told reporters that a girl, identified only as Frida Sofia, had signaled she was alive deep in the rubble by wiggling her fingers. Rescuers said they even spoke with her.

The child became a symbol of hope, but no family members came forward to identify the girl, and officials said no girl by that name was registered at the school.

On Thursday afternoon, navy Assistant Secretary Enrique Sarmiento announced that while there were blood traces and other signs suggesting someone could be alive beneath the school, all its children had been accounted for.

“We have done an accounting with school officials and we are certain that all the children either died, unfortunately, are in hospitals or are safe at their homes,” Sarmiento said.

He said 11 children had been rescued and 19 had died, along with six adults, including a school employee whose body was recovered just before dawn Thursday.

“We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl,” Sarmiento added. “We do not believe — we are sure — it was not a reality.”

In fact, he said, the only trace rescuers had were images from a camera lowered into the rubble that showed blood tracks where an injured person apparently dragged himself or herself.

Sarmiento said the only person still listed as missing was a school employee. But it was just blood tracks — no fingers wiggling, no voice, no name. Several dead people have been removed from the rubble, and it could have been their fingers rescuers thought they saw move.

Sarmiento later apologized for being so categorical, saying if anyone was still trapped could be a child or an adult.

“The information existing at this moment doesn’t allow us to say if it is an adult or a child,” Sarmiento said. “As long as there is the slightest possibility of someone alive, we will continue search with the same energy.”

Alfredo Padilla, a volunteer rescuer at the school, played down the importance of the revelation that there was no trapped child.

“It was a confusion,” Padilla said. “The important thing is there are signs of life and we are working on that.”

And hope burned on.

Outside a collapsed office building in the trendy Roma Norte district, a list of those rescued was strung between two trees. Relatives of the missing compared it against their own list of those who were in the building when the quake struck — more than two dozen names — kept in a spiral notebook.

Maria del Carmen Fernandez’s 27-year-old nephew, Ivan Colin Fernandez, worked as an accountant in the seven-story building, which pancaked to the ground, taking part of the building next door with it.

She said the last time the family got an update was late Wednesday, when officials said about 14 people were believed to be alive inside. Three people have been rescued from the building since the quake.

“They should keep us informed, because I think what kills us most is the desperation of not knowing anything,” Fernandez said as her sister, the missing man’s mother, wept into her black fleece sweater.

Referring to rumors that authorities intended to bring in heavy machinery that could risk bringing buildings down on anyone still alive inside, Fernandez said: “That seems unjust to us because there are still people alive inside and that’s not OK.”

“I think they should wait until they take the last one out,” she said.

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A high-ranking navy official said Thursday there is no missing child at a collapsed Mexico City school that had become a focus of rescue efforts following this week’s deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, though an adult still may be alive in the rubble.

Navy Assistant Secretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said that while there are blood traces and other signs suggesting that someone is alive, all the school’s children have been accounted for.

“We have done an accounting with school officials and we are certain that all the children either died, unfortunately, are in hospitals or are safe at their homes,” Sarmiento said.

The attention of many in Mexico and abroad had been drawn to the plight of a girl identified only as Frida Sofia, who was said to have been located alive under the pancaked school building and became a symbol for the hopes of thousands of rescuers working around the clock in search of quake survivors.

Multiple rescuers at the school site spoke of the girl, with some saying she had reported five more children alive in the same space. Yet no family members had emerged while rescue efforts continued, and some officials had begun to say her identity was not clear.

Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 quake killed at least 245 people in central Mexico and injured over 2,000. That included at least 21 children and five adults at the Enrique Rebsamen school in southern Mexico City.

Earlier Thursday, the navy announced it had recovered the body of a school worker from the school.

Rescuers removed dirt and debris bucketful by bucketful and passed a scanner over the rubble of the school every hour or so to search for heat signatures that could indicate trapped survivors. Shortly before dawn the pile of debris shuddered ominously, prompting those working atop it to evacuate.

“With the shaking there has been, it is very unstable and taking any decision is dangerous,” said Vladimir Navarro, a university employee who was exhausted after working all night.”

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said the number of confirmed dead in the capital had risen from 100 to 115, bringing the overall toll from the quake to 245. He also said two women and a man had been pulled alive from a collapsed office building in the city’s center Wednesday night, almost 36 hours after the quake.

Still, frustration was growing as the rescue effort stretched into Day 3.

Outside a collapsed seven-story office building in the trendy Roma Norte district, a list of those rescued was strung between two trees. Relatives of the missing compared it against their own list of those who were in the building when the quake struck — more than two dozen names — kept in a spiral notebook.

Patricia Fernandez’s 27-year-old nephew, Ivan Colin Fernandez, worked as an accountant in the seven-story building, which pancaked to the ground, taking part of the building next door with it.

She said the last time the family got an update was late yesterday: That about 14 people were believed to be alive inside, and only three had gotten out.

“They should keep us informed,” Fernandez said as her sister, the man’s mother, wept into Fernandez’s black fleece sweater. “Because I think what kills us most is the desperation of not knowing anything.”

Referring to rumors that authorities intend to bring in heavy machinery that could risk bringing buildings down on anyone still alive inside, Fernandez said: “That seems unjust to us because there are still people alive inside and that’s not OK.”

“I think they should wait until they take the last one out,” she said.

Seeking to dispel the rumors, National Civil Protection chief Luis Felipe Puente tweeted Thursday that heavy machinery “is NOT being used” in search-and-rescue efforts.

President Enrique Pena Nieto declared three days of mourning as soldiers, police, firefighters and everyday citizens dug through the rubble, at times with their hands, gaining an inch at a time.

“There are still people groaning. There are three more floors to remove rubble from. And you still hear people in there,” said Evodio Dario Marcelino, a volunteer who was working with dozens of others at a collapsed apartment building.

A man was pulled alive from a partly collapsed apartment building in northern Mexico City more than 24 hours after the Tuesday quake and taken away in a stretcher, apparently conscious

In all, 52 people had been rescued alive since the quake, the city’s Social Development Department said, adding in a tweet: “We won’t stop.” It was a race against time, Pena Nieto warned in a tweet of his own saying that “every minute counts to save lives.”

People have rallied to help their neighbors in a huge volunteer effort that includes people from all walks of life in Mexico City, where social classes seldom mix. Doctors, dentists and lawyers stood alongside construction workers and street sweepers, handing buckets of debris or chunks of concrete hand-to-hand down the line.

At a collapsed factory building closer to the city’s center, giant cranes lifted huge slabs of concrete from the towering pile of rubble, like peeling layers from an onion. Workers with hand tools would quickly move in to look for signs of survivors and begin attacking the next layer.

In addition to those killed in Mexico City, the federal civil defense agency said 69 died in Morelos state just south of the capital and 43 in Puebla state to the southeast, where the quake was centered. The rest of the deaths were in Mexico State, which borders Mexico City on three sides, Guerrero and Oaxaca states.

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A delicate effort to reach a young girl buried in the ruins of her school stretched into a new day on Thursday, a vigil broadcast across the nation as rescue workers struggled to pick away unstable debris and reach her.

The sight of her wiggling fingers early Wednesday became a symbol for the hope that drove thousands of professionals and volunteers to work frantically at dozens of wrecked buildings across the capital and nearby states looking for survivors of the magnitude 7.1 quake that killed at least 245 people in central Mexico and injured over 2,000.

Mexico’s navy announced early Thursday it had recovered the body of a school worker from the Enrique Rebsamen school, but still had not been able to rescue the trapped child.

Rescuers removed dirt and debris bucketful by bucketful and passed a scanner over the rubble of the school every hour or so to search for heat signatures that could indicate trapped survivors. Shortly before dawn the pile of debris shuddered ominously, prompting those working atop it to evacuate.

“We are just meters (yards) away from getting to the children, but we can’t access it until it is shored up,” said Vladimir Navarro, a university employee who was exhausted after working all night. “With the shaking there has been, it is very unstable and taking any decision is dangerous.”

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said the number of confirmed dead in the capital had risen from 100 to 115, bringing the overall toll from the quake to 245. He also said two women and a man had been pulled alive from a collapsed office building in the city’s center Wednesday night, almost 36 hours after the quake.

Still, frustration was growing as the rescue effort stretched into Day 3.

Outside a collapsed seven-story office building in the trendy Roma Norte district, a list of those rescued was strung between two trees. Relatives of the missing compared it against their own list of those who were in the building when the quake struck — more than two dozen names — kept in a spiral notebook.

Patricia Fernandez’s 27-year-old nephew, Ivan Colin Fernandez, worked as an accountant in the seven-story building, which pancaked to the ground, taking part of the building next door with it.

She said the last time the family got an update was late yesterday: That about 14 people were believed to be alive inside, and only three had gotten out.

“They should keep us informed,” Fernandez said as her sister, the man’s mother, wept into Fernandez’s black fleece sweater. “Because I think what kills us most is the desperation of not knowing anything.”

Referring to rumors that authorities intend to bring in heavy machinery that could risk bringing buildings down on anyone still alive inside, Fernandez said: “That seems unjust to us because there are still people alive inside and that’s not OK.”

“I think they should wait until they take the last one out,” she said.

Seeking to dispel the rumors, National Civil Protection chief Luis Felipe Puente tweeted Thursday that heavy machinery “is NOT being used” in search-and-rescue efforts.

President Enrique Pena Nieto declared three days of mourning as soldiers, police, firefighters and everyday citizens dug through the rubble, at times with their hands, gaining an inch at a time.

“There are still people groaning. There are three more floors to remove rubble from. And you still hear people in there,” said Evodio Dario Marcelino, a volunteer who was working with dozens of others at a collapsed apartment building.

A man was pulled alive from a partly collapsed apartment building in northern Mexico City more than 24 hours after the Tuesday quake and taken away in a stretcher, apparently conscious

In all, 52 people had been rescued alive since the quake, the city’s Social Development Department said, adding in a tweet: “We won’t stop.” It was a race against time, Pena Nieto warned in a tweet of his own saying that “every minute counts to save lives.”

But the country’s attention focused on the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school on the city’s south side, where 21 children and five adults have now been confirmed dead.

Hopes rose Wednesday when workers told local media they had detected signs that a girl was alive and she was speaking to them through a hole dug in the rubble. Thermal imaging suggested several more people might be in the air space around her.

A volunteer rescue worker, Hector Mendez, said cameras lowered into the rubble suggested there might be four people still inside, but he added that it wasn’t clear if anyone besides the girl was alive.

Dr. Alfredo Vega, who was working with the rescue team, said that a girl, whom he identified only as Frida Sofia, had been located alive under the pancaked floor slabs.

“She is alive, and she is telling us that there are five more children alive” in the same space, Vega said.

But authorities said the identity of the girl was unclear because no relatives had come forward with information.

The debris removed from the school changed as crews worked their way deeper, from huge chunks of brick and concrete to pieces of wood that looked like remnants of desks and paneling to a load that contained a half dozen sparkly hula-hoops.

Rescuers carried in lengths of wide steel pipe big enough for someone to crawl through, apparently trying to create a tunnel into the collapsed slabs of the three-story school building. But a heavy rain fell during the night, and the tottering pile of rubble had to be shored up with hundreds of wooden beams.

People have rallied to help their neighbors in a huge volunteer effort that includes people from all walks of life in Mexico City, where social classes seldom mix. Doctors, dentists and lawyers stood alongside construction workers and street sweepers, handing buckets of debris or chunks of concrete hand-to-hand down the line.

At a collapsed factory building closer to the city’s center, giant cranes lifted huge slabs of concrete from the towering pile of rubble, like peeling layers from an onion. Workers with hand tools would quickly move in to look for signs of survivors and begin attacking the next layer.

In addition to those killed in Mexico City, the federal civil defense agency said 69 died in Morelos state just south of the capital and 43 in Puebla state to the southeast, where the quake was centered. The rest of the deaths were in Mexico State, which borders Mexico City on three sides, Guerrero and Oaxaca states.

Read More →

MEXICO CITY (AP) — On rubber mats spread across a Mexico City recreation center, the Montero family cuddles under donated wool blankets, their first new possessions after abandoning their apartment following the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

Across the capital thousands of Mexicans are now believed homeless after the tremor leveled entire buildings and left others teetering on the edge of collapse. Men, women and children are now filling up gyms and event halls at more than two dozen designated shelters. Many are uncertain where they will go next, but grateful to have a safe refuge.

“I am sure nothing is going to fall here,” 7-year-old Oscar Montero says.

The Montero family lived on the first floor of a seven-story apartment building that on Tuesday became perilously sandwiched between neighboring towers on each side that have begun caving in. No one in the family of five was home during the quake. Oscar and his two older siblings were all at school, his parents at work.

Claudia Antonio, Oscar’s mother, entered the home quickly the quake after to salvage her children’s birth certificates and vaccination records. Other neighbors pulled out valuables like fridges and microwaves. In the first night after the tremor, some slept outside with the items they had pulled from the wobbly buildings.

The Montero family decided they would go to the Junior Club recreation center.

“Material things come and go,” Antonio, 38, said. “What I value most is our lives.”

The Junior Club is typically a place where children come to swim in the lap pool and adults spin on gym bikes. In the days since the quake it has become one of countless makeshift “homes of refuge,” receiving piles of donated bottled water, baby diapers and toys.

On a second floor dozens of the newly displaced camp out on sleeping mats and share their stories. Teams of volunteer workers visit with each family to determine their needs.

Aside from material needs, Dr. Alfredo Reyes, who was helping out nearby at the site of a flattened six-story building, said many of the survivors are likely to struggle emotionally. A nervous fear lingers in residents, sparked by any sign that buildings which once seemed unmovable might now collapse at the slightest provocation.

At one plaza where rescue workers gathered to organize supplies Tuesday night, panic spread swiftly after people shouted that they’d seen a damaged building start to sway.

“I’m scared!” a young woman cried, her voice trembling

“They’ve lost loved ones, their homes,” Reyes said, adding that the quake also bring up old traumas from prior quakes, like the one that hit Mexico City on the same day in 1985 and left thousands dead.

Oscar Montero, a boy with deep brown eyes whose playful energy sends him bouncing through the halls of the shelter, said the initial tremor didn’t scare him. He comforted the frightened children at his school.

But he is afraid to go home.

“What if there’s a quake again and things break?” he asks. “Here it won’t.”

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — The soft soil that lines the ancient lake bed that Mexico City is built on amplified the shaking from Tuesday’s earthquake and increased its destructive force, seismologists say as they try to better understand the quake that has killed more than 200 people.

Scientists are looking at other quirks of the magnitude 7.1 earthquake, including the absence of aftershocks and if it is somehow related to a distant, even stronger, Mexican temblor that struck a dozen days earlier.

LIKE JELLY

Mexico City is built on deep, soft soil that was once the bottom of a lake. Instead of cushioning the city from earthquakes, it exaggerates their effects, said James Jackson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge in England.

The vibrations, or seismic waves, from the hard rocks below are amplified by the soil and sediments above, making the surface — and the structures built on the surface — shake longer and more intensely.

“It’s like being built on jelly on top of something that is wobbling,” Jackson said.

The soft sediments were the major cause of damage in Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake, according to Cornell University geophysicist Geoffrey Abers.

OTHER SOFT SPOTS

The same deep soft soil effect worsened the deadly 2015 Nepal earthquake because Katmandu is also built on a dry lake bed, Jackson said.

While the geology is not quite the same, Los Angeles, Seattle and the San Francisco Bay area have soft soil that can amplify seismic waves, according to U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Oliver Boyd. New Zealand has been affected by similar issues in past quakes, he said.

WHRE ARE THE AFTERSHOCKS?

Scientists have been unable to detect any aftershocks as of Wednesday afternoon, said USGS seismologist Paul Earle. Usually an area can expect an aftershock one magnitude lower, which would be in the 6.1 range, he said — even though Tuesday’s quake was a type that is usually accompanied by fewer aftershocks.

Unlike most earthquakes, it did not happen where two tectonic plates meet. Instead, Tuesday’s quake happened in the middle of the Cocos plate, the result of pressure built up as it slips under the North American plate.

This so-called “slab fault” quake usually has fewer aftershocks, like the relative quiet after a 2001 earthquake in Seattle. Tuesday’s quake was deeper than normal at 51 kilometers (32 miles) below the surface, and deeper quakes are also associated with fewer aftershocks.

TWO IN TWELVE DAYS

Tuesday’s earthquake was the second in just 12 days in Mexico. The first was a magnitude 8.1 quake that struck southern Mexico and killed at least 90 people.

Geologists say the second quake was not an aftershock because it was too far away — about 650 kilometers (400 miles) — from the first. Most aftershocks are within 100 kilometers (62 miles), Earle said.

It was also not a release of stress generated by the far-off quake, Earle said.

Still, he said, seismologists will probe further to see if there might be some kind of link between the two — or not.

“Earthquakes are random,” Earle said. “Sometimes they happen spaced out in time. Sometimes they happen at the same time.”

Read More →

LiveWire