MEXICO CITY – 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 says the new temblor was centred about 12 miles (19 kilometres) southeast of Matias Romero in the state of Oaxaca, which was the region most battered by a magnitude 8.1 quake on Sept. 7.
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It swayed buildings and set off a seismic alarm in the capital, promping civil defence officials to temporarily suspend rescue operations in the rubble of buildings downed by Thursday’s magnitude 7.1 quake in central Mexico. 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.
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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.” National Civil Defence 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 neighbouring 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 neighbours 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 neighbours 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.”