Mexicans pray as hope fades for quake victims, toll hits 319

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans packed churches on Sunday to pray for the victims of the country’s deadliest quake in 32 years as rescue teams searched against the odds for any survivors trapped under rubble six days after the tremor shook Mexico City and nearby states.

As a fresh aftershock jolted southwestern Mexico on Sunday, the death toll from Tuesday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake climbed to 319 people. With thousands of buildings damaged, survivors slept on the street outside their homes and estimates of the cost of the earthquake ran as high as $8 billion.

Many have been traumatized by the second major quake to strike Mexico City in their lifetime after a devastating 1985 tremor killed an estimated 10,000 people.

In the vast Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the north of the capital, the national shrine of the majority Catholic country, thousands of people gathered to pray.

“I came to ask God for strength for those who lost loved ones and for the Virgin to watch over us and keep us safe,” said 69-year-old Maria Gema Ortiz. “Thanks to all those who came from other countries to help. Thanks to all and long live Mexico!”

Graphic: here

Makeshift places of worship have popped up next to the crumbling cement and mangled steel of collapsed buildings in the deeply religious country.

In upscale Roma, one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods of the capital, a priest led mass for nearly two dozen people under a blue tarp while a nun handed out small cards with an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who according to the Catholic faith first appeared to an Aztec convert in 1531.

President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has visited the scene of the devastation, has urged Mexicans to turn their attention to rebuilding and many schools were expected to reopen on Monday.

Rescuers narrowed their search to a handful of buildings in the sprawling capital of 20 million people, using advanced audio equipment to detect signs of life beneath tonnes of rubble, with help from teams from as far afield as Israel and Japan.

“The search and rescue in Mexico City continues as a priority, with cooperation from national and international groups,” tweeted Miguel Angel Mancera, Mexico City’s mayor.

RISING FRUSTRATION

With Mexico facing a presidential election next year, the government’s response to the disaster is under close scrutiny.

Frustration has grown among the thousands left homeless by Tuesday’s quake, with critics saying the government’s reaction pales in…

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