MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Rescue workers scrabbled through rubble as dawn broke on Wednesday, searching for dozens of children feared buried beneath a Mexico City school, among hundreds of buildings destroyed by the country’s most lethal earthquake in a generation.
The magnitude 7.1 quake on Tuesday killed at least 217 people, nearly half of them in the capital, 32 years to the day after a devastating 1985 quake. The disaster came as Mexico was still reeling from a powerful tremor that killed nearly 100 people in the south of the country less than two weeks ago.
Among the twisted concrete and steel ruin of the Enrique Rebsamen school, soldiers and firefighters found the bodies of at least 22 children and two adults, while another 30 children and 12 adults were missing, President Enrique Pena Nieto said. The school is for children aged 3 to 14.
Hundreds of emergency workers spent the night pulling rubble from the ruins of the grade school with their bare hands under the glare of floodlights. Three survivors were found at around midnight as volunteer rescue teams known as “moles” crawled deep under the rubble.
On Wednesday morning, the workers said a teacher and two students had sent text messages from within the rubble. Parents clung to hope that their children were alive.
“They keep pulling kids out, but we know nothing of my daughter,” said 32-year-old Adriana D‘Fargo, her eyes red, who had waiting for hours for news of her seven-year-old.
The earthquake toppled dozens of buildings, tore gas mains and sparked fires across the city and other towns in central Mexico. Falling rubble and billboards crushed cars.
In a live broadcast, one newsreader had time to say “this is not a drill,” before weaving his way out of the buckling studio.
Parts of colonial-era churches crumbled in the state of Puebla, where the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put the quake’s epicenter some 100 miles (158 km) southwest of the capital, at a depth of 51 km (32 miles).
As the earth shook, Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano, visible from the capital on a clear day, had a small eruption. On its slopes, a church in Atzitzihuacan collapsed during mass, killing 15 people, Puebla Governor Jose Antonio Gali said.
In Rome, Pope Francis told pilgrims he was praying for the victims, the wounded, their families and the rescue workers in the majority Catholic country. “In this moment of pain, I want to express my closeness and prayers to all the beloved Mexican people,”…