Mexico City (AFP) – At least 216 people were killed when a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday, including 21 children crushed beneath an elementary school that was reduced to rubble.
The destruction revived horrific memories in Mexico on the anniversary of another massive quake in 1985, the disaster-prone country’s deadliest ever.
It struck just two hours after the country held a national earthquake drill, as it does every year on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, which killed at least 10,000 people.
One of the most gut-wrenching scenes was at the Enrique Rebsamen primary school on Mexico City’s south side, whose three floors collapsed into one, trapping students and teachers inside.
Twenty-one children and five adults were killed, said Major Jose Luis Vergara of the Mexican navy, who was coordinating a rescue effort that involved hundreds of soldiers, police, civilian volunteers and rescue dogs.
He said another 30 to 40 people remained trapped, while 11 children have been rescued so far.
Emergency workers found a teacher and a student alive beneath the rubble and are trying to get them out, he said.
But the situation was precarious. Late into the night, part of the wreckage collapsed as rescuers continued their search.
Local media reports said soldiers had administered oxygen to one trapped child through a tube.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, who rushed to the site, warned the death toll could rise.
“Unfortunately, many people have lost their lives, including children,” he said in a national address.
The devastation struck across a swath of central states and the death toll as of early Wednesday was 216, the head of the national disaster response agency, Luis Felipe Puente, said on Twitter.
In a sign of the ongoing confusion gripping the country, he had at one point put the death toll at 248.
In addition to Mexico City, people were also killed in Puebla, Morelos, Mexico state and Guerrero.
– ‘Nightmare’ –
Well after nightfall, rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City — home to 20 million people — were still clawing through the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.
Rescue workers reported that families were getting WhatsApp messages pleading for help from desperate relatives trapped under debris.
Memories of the devastating 1985 earthquake surged to the surface on what was meant to be a low-key 32nd anniversary.
Adding to the national sense of vulnerability, the quake also came just 12 days after another…