Parents Wait To Hear About Their Child's Fate After School Collapse In Mexico

Sep 21, 2017
Originally published on September 22, 2017 6:29 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Rescue workers and volunteers in Mexico are working around the clock. They are searching for survivors - searching under crushed buildings, under apartments and schools. Tuesday's earthquake in Mexico registered at 7.1; 245 people are now confirmed dead. That's according to Mexican officials. More than a thousand people were injured in Mexico City and the areas around it. And Mexico City is where we now find NPR correspondent Carrie Kahn. Hi there, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

KELLY: Good morning. I know you spent yesterday in the southern part of the city, at the scene of this collapsed school, where more than 20 children and four adults died. That must have been just a heartbreaking scene.

KAHN: You said it. It was just heartbreaking. There's hundreds of volunteers and rescue personnel that just have flooded to this neighborhood around that school. Everyone just feels like they're emotionally drained. They're tired, but they're just holding on to hope they can reach some of the children alive under all that rubble. In one wing of the school, their three-story building just collapsed. It pancaked in the powerful quake, one level right on top of the other, which really make the rescue effort and chances of survival very difficult.

But the volunteers keep coming. They come with hardhats and fluorescent vests. They're removing rubble with picks and shovels, their hands - there's some heavy machinery too - and dozens more taking in donations, feeding the rescuers. They all just want to be there and do something for those children that are either dead or trapped in the building.

KELLY: Well, the earthquake happened on Tuesday. We're now on Thursday, so we're talking two days on. I mean, I hate to ask, but how much hope are you hearing that they're holding out for more survivors?

KAHN: Well, officials did say they located a small girl and she wiggled her fingers for them. They spent hours yesterday trying to get her out of the building. I spoke to another Marine there who had been on the site for more than 24 hours without sleep. He was just shaking when I spoke to him. He was just overwhelmed with grief at the number of children who died at that school.

I also spoke with a really shaken 49-year-old Lucia Artista. She was sitting on the sidewalk with her son on this piece of cardboard. And both were just blankly staring out into the crowd. Artista's niece works at the school. She cleans there.

LUCIA ARTISTA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "She's been missing since the quake struck on Tuesday," says Artista. "And authorities haven't given us any information at all," she says. She says she can't imagine life without her niece. She was the one who organized all the family parties. She made all the birthday cakes.

ARTISTA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We haven't moved from here since the quake struck, except," she says, "at dawn to search area hospitals." When they didn't find her, they came back to the sidewalk and say they aren't budging. All of a sudden, the crowd is told to be quiet.

An official has just come out and yelled silence, put his fist up in the air. People are all putting their fists up in the air, just a sign for everyone to be quiet as they try and listen for any signs of life under the rubble.

Slowly, people's fists come down and the noise level rises.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONSTRUCTION)

KAHN: Around the corner, workers are shoring up the facade of a heavily damaged building. Officials are letting residents briefly go inside their buckling apartments.

GABRIEL VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "They give us each five minutes to go in and get whatever we can," says Gabriel Vargas, who's six months pregnant. She grabbed clothes, her medicine and pictures. She then breaks down thinking of all she left behind.

VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We've lost everything, but our lives are more important. We're all here," she says.

KELLY: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn reporting - we'll say it again - on just a heartbreaking scene in one neighborhood of Mexico City as they keep trying to find people, save people and dig out from under this devastating earthquake.

Carrie, thanks so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.