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Dispatches From Mexico City Part Two: Tuesday’s Earthquake And The Aftermath

Author: Ty Trumbull
Author: Ty Trumbull

From his apartment in Mexico City, ChannelE2E Senior Contributing Editor Ty Trumbull wrote this blog hours after yesterday’s devastating earthquake — the region's second quake in recent weeks. He is safe. Here are his firsthand experiences.

Helicopters continue to circle overhead and the distant wail of sirens can still be heard around the city. The ground is moist from the rain that fell late last night. It’s unclear whether it would have been a hindrance to the rescuers working frantically to move rubble or whether it might have offered some relief from the dust and dirt that hung so thick in the air last night.

When the earthquake struck, I was sitting on my couch with my dog beside me having, coincidentally, just submitted an article to ChannelE2E about a different quake that hit less than two weeks ago -- and some musings on the importance of data centers in natural disasters.

That seems rather trite now.

Adding to the strangeness of the event was that 32 years to the day was when another massive earthquake leveled Mexico City. And on the anniversary of that terrible event the country holds earthquake drills. So at 11:00 a.m. the alarm sounded and anyone who remembered that it was just a test stayed in doors.

But there was no alarm when the earth started to shake shortly after 1:00 p.,. local time. When the books began to fall and the windows looked like they were bending is when I realized it was a big deal. Much bigger than the one that hit a couple weeks ago. Given how unexpected it was, we had no choice but to ride it out. After the tremors ceased I found the cat and we all headed outside to try and get ahold of my girlfriend. That’s when my phone died.

The scene on the street was surreal, to say the least. Most people milled about in front of their homes or offices, others were glued to their phones trying to get ahold of loved ones, and still others ran at full speed down almost certainly trying to get to their kids’ school.

Collecting Stories

The sheer number of people trying to use the network managed to crash it and it became impossible to make calls or use the Internet, at least in my neighborhood. So we collected bits of news from passersby. We heard of people trapped in the metro, of buildings collapsed, lost pets, and of children who couldn’t find their parents or vice versa.

Friends began showing up at our apartment to check on us with stories of cracked roads and downed hydro polls. Eventually, my girlfriend, a teacher, got home after making sure all her kids got away okay. She came with the story of an eight-story building that collapsed just a block away from where she teaches.

One friend of ours had been complaining recently, before the temblor, that her house was falling apart and given that we hadn’t heard from her in a while we became extra worried and decided to go check on her. On the walk, we regained service and managed to contact our families back home to let them know we were okay, some four hours after the quake. We met up with our friend, who was fine, but that’s when I personally saw the first signs of the destruction. The facade of a 12 story government building had fallen into the street. Later we would see the video of people running from the rubble’s path.

Helping Hands

As we returned home we saw lines of people calling for donations or hands to go help in the rescue effort. When we got back to our apartment we found power had been restored. We dropped the dog off, charged our phones for a few moments before making our way to the site of the collapsed building near my girlfriend’s school to see how we could help.

It looked like a war zone.

People yelling frantically, lines of military vehicles as far as the eye could see, men standing in the beds of pickup trucks as people offered up bottles of water and other donations for the rescue effort. We brought apples and medical supplies to donate but couldn’t help much more than that. The plan is to return today to see if we can offer any relief.

Just days before, the military had been displaying its prowess in the parade to mark Mexico’s Day of Independence. Yesterday we got to see them swing into action. I was particularly struck by the site of a man in fatigues running at full speed down the middle of the street, ordering cars out of the way as a truckload of his fellow soldiers weaved its way through the path he was clearing.

Stories and Rumors

The strange thing about a natural disaster is how difficult it is to fully appreciate the damage that happened all around you. Yes, we’d heard the stories of buildings falling, of people trapped, and worse, but it wasn’t until the Internet returned and we began to see the videos that it really began to sink in. I’m sure those images had already made the rounds on local news programs around the world before we got to see them.

It’s ironic that we should be so close to the devastation and in many ways be the last ones to know about it.

There are unsubstantiated rumors now of people disguising themselves as inspectors to rob buildings and of muggings in some parts of the city. The darker side of humanity. I’m sure it’s out there in small doses, but everything I’ve witnessed points to the other side. People have been coming together to help one another, offering their homes, their water, their hands. Whatever they can to help.

If you’d like to help you can donate to the Mexican Red Cross.

Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City.