Race to rescue survivors of Mexico quake as storm Katia strikes the east

Juchitán de Zaragoza (Mexico) (AFP) – Police, soldiers and emergency workers raced to rescue survivors from the ruins of Mexico’s most powerful earthquake in a century, which killed at least 61 people, as storm Katia menaced the country’s eastern coast Saturday with heavy rains.

In the southern region hit hardest by the quake, emergency workers looked for survivors — or bodies — in the rubble of houses, churches and schools that were torn apart in the 8.1-magnitude quake.

President Enrique Pena Nieto said 45 people were killed in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco. But the actual death toll could be over 80, according to figures reported by state officials.

Meanwhile storm Katia made landfall in the east as a Category One hurricane and hours later was downgraded to a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (70 kilometers) per hour.

The storm was bringing rains likely to cause “life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain” the US National Hurricane Center said.

Katia was lashing the state of Veracruz, which borders the Gulf of Mexico, as well as parts of Hidalgo and Puebla. Forecasters were predicting the storm could unleash upwards of 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain in some areas.

In Tecolutla, a coastal town of 8,000 residents, AFP journalists found felled trees and branches as families hunkered down to weather the storm.

The government warned that Katia could threaten about one million people and unleash dangerous floods.

Adding to the concerns, authorities warned another massive aftershock could follow within 24 hours of the first quake.

Pena Nieto toured the hardest-hit city, Juchitan in Oaxaca, where at least 36 bodies were pulled from the ruins.

The city’s eerily quiet streets were a maze of rubble, with roofs, cables, insulation and concrete chunks scattered everywhere.

A crowd had formed at Juchitan’s partially collapsed town hall, a Spanish colonial building where two policemen were trapped in the rubble.

Rescuers managed to extract one and were still working to save the other 18 hours after the quake.

“God, let him come out alive!” said a woman watching as four cranes and a fleet of trucks removed what remained of the building’s crumbled wing.

His blue uniform covered in dust, Vidal Vera, 29, was one of around 300 police officers digging through the rubble. He hadn’t slept in more than 36 hours.

“I can’t remember an earthquake this terrible,” he told AFP.

“The whole city is a…

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