A version of this post first appeared on VICE Mexico. Click here to read the original in Spanish. Photos by Rogelio Velazquez and Hans Musielik.
Mexico City — In the city’s bustling Roma North neighborhood, doctors, dog walkers, students, and store owners became rescue workers overnight, offering their hands in an enormous rescue effort to save their neighbors trapped under the debris after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck on Tuesday. As night fell, the workers pressed on in silence in order to hear cries of help from those still trapped in the rubble.
Hours earlier the massive quake shook Mexico’s sprawling metropolis, bringing giant buildings to the ground, and burying innocents under rubble and tons of cement. As of this writing, at least 217 people had been killed in the quake, 20 of them children, with the death toll expected to rise.
Roma North was among the hardest hit areas in the city. A normally bustling neighborhood lined with restaurants and storefronts, Roma North looked more like a war zone Tuesday evening.
A new improvised rescue brigade formed every few minutes. Ambulance sirens screamed ceaselessly. Firefighters rushed in and out from emergency to emergency. Supermarket carts became medicine chests stuffed with water and medical supplies.
Murmurs of who was saved and where were collected on improvised lists: someone knew so-and-so was dug out, but no one knows which hospital they were sent to.
Armed with shovels, pickaxes, helmets, or just bottles of war, rescue workers and civilians worked together through the night to find those buried under the debris.
We were spoke to Roma North residents trying to save their neighbors.
“I was riding my bike on Álvaro Obregón Avenue when I heard the seismic alarm,” local resident Rebecca told VICE News. “I felt a pull towards the ground. I fell and hurt my arm. Then, to my right, a building started to collapse. The wires lashed out around me and I couldn’t move.”
I got back on my bike and found that parts of my building had collapsed, while others looked as if they had been peeled off. I was anxious to get to my apartment because my mom goes nuts with earthquakes. Two blocks from my home, a building collapsed.”
“I am a doctor. I am coming with my boyfriend and my sister to help in whatever way we can,” said Jessica, 29. “But they kicked us out because a chemical lab collapsed and the chemicals are now exposed, so there might be an accident. We are here because we know people need our help.”
“Each one does his part,” said Ramses, 27. “We must do ours: the humanitarian and the medical — that’s why we are here. We’ve seen a lot of support from people all over the city. We’ll be here as long as it takes to assist those who need our help.”
“It was horrible. In the 31 years I’ve been in Mexico, I have never felt anything like this,” said Guadalupe, 55. “I tried to run down my apartment’s stairs, but I wasn’t able to because of the strength of the earthquake. Buildings next door teetered, spitting out dust, as they readied to collapse.”
“Right now, nothing in the neighborhood works,” said Guadalupe. “There is no light, no open Oxxos [convenience stores]. My home was built in the 1950s, but now it’s lopsided.”