Lo­cal stu­dent ex­pe­ri­ences ter­ror of Mex­i­can quake

Calgary Herald - - CITY - LANNA PET­TER­SON

Like many other Cal­gar­i­ans, I moved to Leth­bridge to at­tend univer­sity. As a por­tion of my PhD, I planned to spend about a month col­lect­ing data in the Mex­i­can city of Ju­chitán, Oax­aca, a city slightly larger than Leth­bridge that’s cel­e­brated for its cul­ture. I was ner­vous. I don’t speak the lan­guage, I didn’t know if I would find veg­e­tar­ian food op­tions, and I wor­ried about com­puter problems. But I never thought I’d ex­pe­ri­ence the most pow­er­ful earth­quake in Mex­ico’s his­tory.

Yet on Sept. 7, just be­fore mid­night, the city of Ju­chitán be­gan to shake. Ly­ing in my ho­tel room, the bed started to rat­tle. A vi­brat­ing hum filled the room as the shak­ing built. I jumped from my bed and ran to the door, leav­ing ev­ery­thing be­hind.

I was un­able to com­pre­hend what I was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Loud crashes and the bark­ing of dogs joined the rat­tle of vi­bra­tion. I won­dered whether we were be­ing bombed. The floor felt like it had become liq­uid; wav­ing like a boat in a storm.

I was over­whelmed by one thought: “Ce­ment can­not move like this. We are go­ing to die.”

The guests of the ho­tel gath­ered in the lobby, wait­ing for the build­ing to col­lapse or the shak­ing to stop. Thank­fully, it stopped.

The ho­tel staff un­locked the front gate and pushed it open. We walked bare­foot into the street think­ing that we had ex­pe­ri­enced the worst of it. We were wrong.

As peo­ple and cars be­gan mov­ing through the streets, head­lights and flash­lights il­lu­mi­nated the area and the re­al­ity of the past few min­utes.

Piles of bricks spilled into the road. Fallen power lines snaked be­tween bricks and coiled on the street among the wreck­age. For some build­ings, these bricks were one of the few re­main­ing signs that a build­ing had been stand­ing but five min­utes be­fore.

We wan­dered through the streets, each few me­tres re­veal­ing ad­di­tional dam­age. A mo­tor car sped by, wind­ing be­tween peo­ple. I ini­tially was taken aback by the care­less­ness of the driver. How­ever, as they went by, I saw the pas­sen­ger, a man hold­ing his baby in his arms. I in­stantly rec­og­nized this as a par­ent’s des­per­ate race to the hos­pi­tal. Only then did it hit me: peo­ple were not OK.

Turn­ing the corner, we saw a build­ing en­tirely col­lapsed. A crowd cir­cled its side. Two peo­ple were trapped. First re­spon­ders stood above the pair. They pulled bricks away by hand and yelled for sup­plies: light, wa­ter, a saw, a lever, a shovel.

We stood with the crowd — wish­ing that there was some­thing that could be done to help, hop­ing that it would not be re­vealed that they would be lost.

The res­cue was a suc­cess. Af­ter the man and woman had been freed, we, along with many Ju­chitecxs, walked to the city cen­tre to seek safety in the open in the event of an after­shock.

Mem­bers of the crowd passed around information. It was an 8.2 mag­ni­tude earth­quake. Peo­ple in the lower re­gions had been less for­tu­nate.

Sev­eral more died in a pop­u­lar restau­rant and bar, which had been cel­e­brat­ing its 32nd year in business. The Palace — a large struc­ture in the cen­tre of the city that houses the mar­ket, a cen­tral part of Ju­chitán’s economy — col­lapsed with sev­eral peo­ple be­neath.

Many lost their lives when their houses col­lapsed on them. We would later learn that 90 lives had been lost in the re­gion.

A large por­tion of the Palace was no longer stand­ing. To our sur­prise, amid the rub­ble stood a wav­ing Mex­i­can flag, a sym­bol of hope fight­ing against the tragedy that had be­fallen Ju­chitán. We would later learn that a man had freed the flag and erected it to stand above the wreck­age.

The leg­end of Ju­chitán says that St. Vincent put its cit­i­zens in this some­times chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment be­cause he wanted them to be strong and rugged.

His­tory has re­peat­edly shown this to be true. The peo­ple of Ju­chitán have shown great per­sis­tence and for­ti­tude against seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able forces.

On Sept. 5, 1866, the Ju­chitecxs de­feated the Royal French Army dur­ing the French in­ter­ven­tion

Two peo­ple were trapped. First re­spon­ders stood above the pair. They pulled bricks away by hand and yelled for sup­plies.

in Mex­ico, a vic­tory that they had cel­e­brated two days prior.

Un­like Mex­ico City and Oax­aca City, which felt the earth­quake, no warning was given from the coun­try’s seis­mic alert sys­tem. We sur­vived the earth­quake un­scathed. Many oth­ers were not so for­tu­nate. Sev­eral schools col­lapsed. Churches fell apart. The hos­pi­tal needs re­pairs. Nu­mer­ous peo­ple lost their homes and their busi­nesses. Many lives were lost.

Be­cause Ju­chitán is not our home, my lab­mate and I were able to leave. Back in Canada, we do not have to worry about re­ceiv­ing a ra­tion of food and wa­ter, or about how we will sup­port our fam­i­lies while our busi­nesses lie in ruin, or about where we will live.

Most of all, we do not have to worry that our roof and walls will col­lapse upon us while we sleep. The same can­not be said for the Ju­chitecxs who stayed to re­build their beloved city.

Given time and fi­nan­cial sup­port, Ju­chitán will re­build. But despite the peo­ple’s strength, it is clear that they will need help. Please con­sider do­nat­ing to the fol­low­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, which are play­ing a key role in Mex­ico’s re­cov­ery ef­forts: Mex­i­can Red Cross Ox­fam Mex­ico UNICEF Mex­ico Save The Chil­dren Mex­ico

Lanna Pet­ter­son

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