BY VICTORIA WANG ’20
A 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City, causing massive damage on Tuesday, Sept. 19. The quake’s epicenter was Puebla, a town about 100 miles south-east of the capital. According to BBC, the death toll has already mounted to 273 people. Mexican civil protection authorities told BBC that at least 38 buildings have collapsed in Mexico City. Among the ruins was primary school Enrique Rébsamen. Officials say 11 children were rescued, but 19 children and 6 adults died, as reported by the BBC.
The country is continuing to rescue survivors with help from local as well as global volunteers. Donations are being collected from nonprofit organizations and influential public figures, including Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Mexican-born actress Salma Hayek, both of whom have donated $100,000 to help rescue efforts in Mexico.
South and Central American state governments have also sent troops and funds to aid in the rescue mission. According toABC News, governments of Israel, Peru, El Salvador, Chile and Panama, along with many other countries, have sent or promised to send military troops, rescue professionals, andsupport staff for medical care and logistics. USAID professionals promised to help assess damage and send in aid-groups to provide support where critical aid was needed. Other governments and civilians around the world have publicly expressed condolences.
According to professor Lowell Gudmundson from the Latin American studies department, the Mexican government has learned from past experiences, particularly the infamous 1985 earthquake, which gave the government a poor public image. “A terrible, pathetic governmental non-response to the 1985 quake led to massive public outrage, and eventual political change too,” said Gudmundson, “but the more recently built buildings fared much better, and while private citizen action was critical once again, this time the national and local governments were much better organized and less tone-deaf to the suffering all around them. Public authorities in Mexico City were better prepared this time,” he said.
Earlier this month, Mexico suffered from an 8.2-magnitude tremor, centered 650km (400 miles) from Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1, resulting in over 90 casualties, according to the New York Times. The 8.2 magnitude earthquake was the biggest observed in the country in over a century.
According to the New York Times, Mexico has had a long history dealing with earthquakes due to its particular geological setting. The nation sits on a subduction zone where sea crust subduesunder the continental crust. The episodic thrusts of the ocean crust, sometimes a few meters down at one time often causes tremors.
Professor Steven Dunn from the geology department said that Mexico City was largely a wetlandregion containing many lakes when it was founded. As such, most buildings in Mexico City were based upon filled lakes, which are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes. Said Dunn, “The structure of Mexico City is mainly soft sediment, so when an earthquake strikes even a long way off, it causes the land to basically jiggle, so even good constructions are going to have a hard time holding up when the substrate is weak.”