Local student experiences terror of Mexican quake
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