Mexican rescuers raced against the clock on Wednesday to save a 12-year-old girl trapped beneath a collapsed school and reaches other possible survivors buried in rubble in central Mexico following the country’s most deadly earthquake in three decades.
At least 237 people were killed by the 7.1-magnitude quake that struck about 150 km (90 miles) southeast of Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon, 32 years after a 1985 quake killed thousands.
Rescue workers were able to communicate with the girl, identified only as Frida Sofia, who responded that there were two other students nearby but she could not tell if they were alive, according to broadcaster Televisa, whose cameras and reporters had special access to the scene.
Rescuers previously had seen a hand protruding from the debris, and she wiggled her fingers when asked if she was still alive, Televisa said.
The girl’s full name was not made public, but her family waited in anguish nearby, knowing that the bodies of 21 school children and four adults were already recovered from the Enrique Rebsamen School.
They and other parents clung to hope after rescue teams reported a teacher and two students had sent text messages from within the rubble.
Rescuers moved slowly, erecting makeshift wooden scaffolding to prevent rubble from crumbling further and seeking a path to the child through the unstable ruins. As in rescue scenes throughout the central Valley of Mexico, officials ruled out using heavy equipment as long as there were signs of life below.
Some 14 hours after the effort began, rescue workers in hard hats made an urgent plea on camera for beams and chains to support parts of the school ruins that were collapsing.
“We have a lot of hope that some will still be rescued,” said David Porras, one of olunteers helping the search at the school for children aged 3 to 14. “But we’re slow, like turtles,” he said.
Rescuers periodically demanded “total silence” bystanders, who would freeze in place and stay quiet, to better hear calls for help.
Similar efforts have pulled more than 50 survivors from buildings around the country, President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a national address.
Such rescues lead to impassioned cries of “Yes we can!” from responders and bystanders.
Fifty-two buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told reporters.
In all the quake killed 102 people in Mexico City and the remaining 135 from five surrounding states. Another 1,900 people were treated for injuries, the president said.
The quake struck a mere 31 km (32 miles) beneath the surface, sending major shockwaves through the metropolitan area of some 20 million people. Much of the capital is built upon an ancient lake bed that shakes like jelly during a quake.
“The central part of Mexico City, in the lake bed, is always going to be a complicated place to build,” said Rodrigo Suarez, chief operating officer at Mexico City-based apartment developer Hasta Capital. “These old buildings (may) survive an earthquake or two or three, but since they weren’t built to modern code, there’s always going to be a risk in major earthquakes.”