Women Leading the Mexico City Earthquake Rescue Efforts Share Their Stories
"We've all been here since dawn, sleeping for a while wherever we can, it doesn't matter what gender or age."
A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Mexico. Leer en Español .
It's been a month since the earthquake, and things in Mexico City seem to be getting back to normal. Sitting in the metro, I exchange glances with my fellow passengers, and we greet one another with a half-smile of solidarity. Now, we're more than just strangers: We're millions of people who have shared the unique pain of seeing certainties fall apart, who have helped one another recover.
Two weeks after the quake in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, that desire to help remained strong. A building at at 286 Álvaro Obregon had collapsed, and groups of rescuers—whether citizens, neighbors, or members of Los Topos, Mexico's volunteer first response brigade—were taking turns collaborating, picking up debris, and searching for survivors even when the chances were slim. Everyone treated one another with immense respect. We spoke to some of the women there about their experience.
ANA ROSA LORENZO, MEXICO CITY, RESCUER, LOS TOPOS
BROADLY: What do you do other than work with Los Topos?
Ana Rosa Lorenzo: Everyone does their own work outside of this. My focus is on anything related to cleaning and green spaces. I love my city very much and am always doing something for its people.
How long will you continue this for?
Today I started at 7:00 in the morning. I've been here 12 hours, and I'll stay until I run out of energy and time because we have shifts. Everyone wants to help, but we also have to rest. We're working at a building that could crumble at any moment with us inside.
How many Topos are there right now?
There are 15 [volunteers] plus other groups that come from Spain and South Korea, [along with] firefighters from this district and from other parts of the country. There are a lot of us. My husband is also here.
How do you feel?
Right now I want to help, but at the same time I want to demonstrate that women can help in every context, even in heavy labor or high-risk situations, like in my case. We're also mothers, so maybe this gives us more energy. I feel very grateful to Mexico. While we're up there, they are strengthening us with provisions and with support. I'm also thankful for all the words of encouragement and drawings from children that were given to us. I have daughters, and hearing them tell us, 'Keep going' gives us strength to continue.
SHARON TERÁN, MEXICO CITY, CIVIL VOLUNTEER
BROADLY: What time did you start today?
Sharon Terán: I started last night at 10:00, and I've been here for 19 hours. Our shifts are a bit complicated, but it's for the greater good. Since the earthquake, I've been working in different places—in Eugenia, for example, and in the collection centers. I've also been to Morelos. Every place I've been to has left me with a scar for what was once there, for what has been lost. There is also a scar upon the city and in all of our hearts because we've walked through the streets and we've lived it. Now, there's this helplessness for those who are there, trapped inside. You just want to take them out so that their loved ones can stop suffering.
What are you going to do after this?
I'm going to see if they can make more spaces and that new constructions will have better follow-ups and guidelines. A lot of the buildings that have fallen fell because they had things that weren't standard or had been modified. In the textile factory, for instance, the weight of the fabric and paper made the building collapse. On top of that, there were too many people in a tiny space.
What should someone do in case of an earthquake?
If you can't get out within fifteen seconds, find a filter for your mouth, and hide in the fetal position underneath a strong object that makes a triangle over you. Covering your mouth is very important because not getting sediment or dust in your lungs guarantees you an extra two or three days of survival until rescuers arrive.
How do you feel being here?
I feel helpless, despite a lot of people's support. Society is organizing, and for the first time ever, we've seen that our city and our country don't need the government's help. We are all helping: There are neighbors that come by with food to make sure we're able to make it through the day; children who thank us with drawings; international brigades that have different areas of expertise and equipment, and we are so grateful to them because we hold this city in our hearts and have empathy for one another. I think that, now, we have to take control of many spaces.
MARÍA DE LOS ÁNGELES RUIZ, MEXICO CITY, RESCUER, LOS TOPOS
BROADLY: When did you get here?
María de los Ángeles: We were working in the Oaxaca emergency, where there was another earthquake. They sent us here on [September 19], and we got here on the 20th because of a problem with the ambulance that was bringing us. Here, there's nothing that differentiates us. We've all been here since dawn, sleeping for a while wherever we can, [regardless of] gender or age. That's how I think it should be. We are experiencing a truly united Mexico, just how we've always wanted. What a shame that these things had to happen in order for the people to unite.
Has this been emotionally intense?
I've set my emotions aside. If others see you as weak they cast you aside, but definitely the most intense time was during the sound tests and thermal imaging at a multi-family home in Tlalpan. When someone screams, 'There's life!' you know that there is someone there waiting for you.
We're going to stay here until we've removed the last stone, roughly another week. After that, I'll take a bit of a break and spend some time with my family, hold them tight and forget about material things that aren't important.
ZURI NAVANI GARCIA, MEXICO CITY, RESCUER, LOS TOPOS
BROADLY: Have you volunteered before?
Zuri Navani Garcia: Yes, I'm a paramedic and was with the Red Cross. Now, I'm working with los Topos where, in addition to paramedic training, we also specialize in rescues from confined spaces. We learn how to use tools like drills, emery, and concrete cutters.
What was your shift like?
We got here at 11:00 PM last night, finished at 3:00 AM, and started working again at 6:00 in the morning until 3:00 PM in the afternoon. Here, there's no distinction between sexes. You come and work and the same is expected from everybody. That's why I came, to help, not to complain.
What's been the most emotionally intense thing that you've experienced?
When we were in the multi-family homes in Tlalpan, there were several people who were alive and trapped. We asked everyone to be quiet so that we could use audio equipment to amplify sounds beneath the rubble. I will never forget hearing a knock on a wall or other sounds after having said, 'If you can hear me make a noise, cry, scratch. Now.' You realize that the lives of these people are in your hands, and you can do something for them.
PAOLA DELFÍN, MEXICO CITY, CIVIL VOLUNTEER
BROADLY: What is the most difficult part of your work?
Paola Delfín: The suffering of others. In this place I'm not sure if they were able to rescue people. It's very complicated.
How do you feel when you're working on top of the rubble?
I try not to think too much, to be able to be more efficient and not get overwhelmed by my emotions, even though it's difficult. I always think that if something had happened to me I'd like for people to help me.
LUISA RIBERO, MEXICO CITY, IBEROMED VOLUNTEERS
BROADLY: What is your job here?
Luisa Ribero: I coordinate all of the civil volunteers, or rather, anyone who isn't from a brigade, a rescuer, UME (the Unidad Militar de Emergencias, or "Spanish Military Emergencies Unit") or los Topos. Civil volunteers are the ones who are helping mostly with cleaning up rubble. I'm in charge of sending all of them where they are needed, equipping them, and making sure they are safe. I accompany them to where they'e posted and I bring them back afterwards. I've been a volunteer for five years and I'm a paramedic. I also study medicine.
What time did you start today?
I started yesterday at 3:00 PM and I'm here until 9:00 PM. This is my second shift longer than 24 hours and, to be honest, I'm fine with it. There is good organization and everyone treats each other well. Here, most of the coordination is done by women and, to me, it feels like they are showing us a lot of respect.
Where did you sleep?
I didn't sleep.
What has impressed you the most?
I've been very impressed by the unity since the beginning of the emergency. No one got in the way. It wasn't an ego struggle, it was more about giving what you could for as long as you could. It's impressive what's been achieved in terms of unity.