Desperation mounted among the families of those still missing as painstaking attempts to reach survivors in quake-ravaged buildings across Mexico City stretched into a third day last night.
President Enrique Pena Nieto’s office raised the death toll from Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake to 273, including 137 in the capital. In a statement yesterday, it said there were also 73 deaths in Morelos state, 43 in Puebla, 13 in the State of Mexico, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.
More than 2,000 were injured and more than 50 people rescued in Mexico City alone, including two women and a man pulled alive from the wreckage of a building in the city centre. Despite reports of a girl being found trapped but alive in the rubble of a school in the city, Mexican navy officials later said she never existed.
Maria del Carmen Fernandez’s 27-year-old nephew, Ivan Colin Fernandez, worked as an accountant in a seven-story office block which pancaked to the ground during the quake, taking part of the building next door with it. She said the last time the family got an update was late on 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,” Fernandez said, as her sister, the man’s mother, wept into her black fleece sweater. “Because I think what kills us most is the desperation of not knowing anything.” Referring to rumours 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 added. Seeking to dispel the rumours, National Civil Protection chief Luis Felipe Puente tweeted that heavy machinery “is NOT being used” in search and rescue efforts.
“The #Search and Rescue is not being suspended anywhere it is believed that trapped people exist,” Puente said in a separate tweet. Since early on Wednesday, the eyes of the nation had been focused on the Enrique Rebsamen school in southern Mexico City, where rescuers told reporters a girl, identified only as Frida Sofia, had signalled she was alive deep in the rubble by wiggling her fingers in response to rescuers’ shouts.
But 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 about 5am on Thursday. “We want to emphasise 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.”
Alfredo Padilla, a volunteer rescuer at the school, downplayed 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.” In the middle of a nearby avenue yesterday evening, about 50 people attended a special church service, including bereaved families and rescuers from the school site.
The ceremony ended with the release of white balloons that floated towards the sky. “My brave princess,” one of them read, “we will always love you.”