Grim search for survivors after at least 224 killed in powerful Mexico quake
Alfredo ESTRELLA (AFP)
The death toll from a powerful earthquake that rocked Mexico on Tuesday has surged to 224 people, including 117 in the capital, said Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong.
The dead included at least 21 children crushed beneath a primary school that collapsed on Mexico City's south side during the 7.1-magnitude quake, authorities said.
"We have a report of 25 dead, among them 21 children and four adults" at the Enrique Rebsamen elementary school, Mexican Undersecretary of Education Javier Trevino told the Televisa network.
Rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City -- home to 20 million people -- clawed through the rubble of at least 49 collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.
Local media reported that families were getting Whatsapp messages pleading for help from desperate relatives trapped under the debris.
Mexico City recorded 36 of the deaths, while Morelos state directly south of it saw 64 killed. The others were registered in Puebla (29), a town southeast of the capital, and in Mexico state (nine), which lies just to the west of the capital.
National Coordinator for Civil Protection Luis Felipe Puente said a total of at least 138 people died.
Memories of the devastating 1985 earthquake that killed 10,000 people in Mexico City spurred panic on Tuesday. Many quickly ran for safety outdoors when walls around them swayed and cracked.
Scenes of chaos permeated the city immediately after the earth shuddered. Traffic jammed to a standstill before blanked-out stop lights, and anxious people ran between vehicles as ambulances tried to make headway, sirens squealing.
Emergency officials warned people in the streets to avoid smoking because of the risk of igniting gas leaking from ruptured pipes.
In several locations, people were seen clambering on buildings that were now piles of stone and tangled metal to pull people out.
Soldiers, police and civilian volunteers worked through the night after Tuesday's 7.1-magnitude quake, hoping to find survivors beneath the mangled remains of collapsed buildings in Mexico City and across a swath of central states.
"The armed forces and federal police will continue working non-stop until every possibility of finding more people alive is exhausted," Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong said on Twitter.
The most agonizing search was at a school in the capital where 21 children and five adults were crushed to death, and where at least 30 children were still missing.
"No one can possibly imagine the pain I'm in right now," said one mother, Adriana Fargo, who was standing outside what remained of the school waiting for news of her seven-year-old daughter.
The nation's attention was fixed on the school, the Enrique Rebsamen elementary and middle school on Mexico City's south side.
Hundreds of soldiers, police and volunteers wrestled with the wreckage through the night trying to extract a teacher and two students found alive beneath the rubble.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, who rushed to the site, warned that the death toll could rise.
Suspicion was already mounting of shoddy building standards at the school.
The three-storey building "ought to have had in-built earthquake resilience," said geoscience professor David Rothery of the Open University in Britain.
"Had it been properly constructed it should not have collapsed, and I expect questions will be asked about whether the appropriate building codes were adhered to."
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