hope for children dims amid rubble of Mexico City school

Parents cling to rumours of earthquake survivors at Enrique Rebsámen school as volunteers arrive to pick through building’s remains

A man moves rubble taken from the Enrique Rebsamen school that collapsed after an earthquake in Mexico City. Photograph: Marco Ugarte/AP

When Silverio Pérez reached the ruined school, he could still hear the screams coming from the children trapped beneath the shattered concrete.

Dozens of people – students and teachers – were still inside the Enrique Rebsámen school when Tuesday’s magnitude-7.1 earthquake rocked Mexico City, reducing the three-storey building to mound of rubble and twisted metal.

Like many other neighbours, Pérez, a lawyer, rushed to the scene and started digging at the wreckage with his bare hands. “I heard kids crying when I got there and saw them hurt. Badly,” said Pérez, bleary-eyed and disheveled after working through the night.

At first the improvised rescue team thought they would be able to free the trapped children; they brought in hoses to pass them water and milk.

“But they couldn’t be reached,” said Pérez. “They were buried.”

The tragedy at the Enrique Rebsámen school bore witness to the scale of the destruction unleashed by the quake. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, visited the school on Tuesday night, but he delivered bad news: 20 children were dead, along with two staff members. Another 30 people were missing.

Two children were dragged out from the ruined primary school, which draws its pupils from Mexico’s upper-middle class.

On Wednesday morning, rumours spread that a teacher and two students had sent text messages from within the rubble, and local television reported that rescuers had spotted a young girl trapped in the building who had moved her hand when they called out to her.

Amid the uncertainty, parents clung to hope that their children had survived.

“They keep pulling kids out, but we know nothing of my daughter,” Adriana D’Fargo told Reuters. She had been waiting for hours for news of her seven-year-old.

But some rescuers were doubtful that any more survivors could emerge from the rubble.

“People are saying these children are alive, but that’s unlikely,” said one Mexican government employee working on the rescue. “It’s dangerous in there. We’re advancing little by little, rock by rock.”

The Mexico City earthquake struck on 19 September – the same day a huge tremor wrecked the national capital in 1985, claiming an estimated…

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