From Texas With Love for Mexico

Rafael Chavez left Mexico for a new life in America but returned to volunteer when the Sept 19 earthquake devastated the city
September 28, 2017 Updated: September 28, 2017    

For two nights after the devastating earthquake struck Mexico City on Sept 19, Rafael Chavez, 34, of San Antonio, Texas, struggled to sleep.

“It just didn’t feel right that I was here in my air conditioned home, lying in bed with my wife safe and sound,” said Rafael.

Chavez and his wife are both Mexican citizens who moved to San Antonio two and a half years ago. In the aftermath of the quake, the couple spoke about what they could do to help their home country.

Rafael Chavez stands guard outside a condemned building at risk of collapse in Mexico City on Sept 24, 2017. (Anthony Hoffman)

Chavez was at his restaurant job on Sept. 19, when he received news via text message from his wife that a powerful magnitude-7.1 earthquake had struck Mexico City at 1:13 p.m.

He came home from work not knowing the severity of the quake but the impact soon sunk in as he read social media posts about the people missing, collapsed buildings, and the DN III-E national state of emergency.

After one of those anxious sleeps, Chavez got up, went to work and told his boss that he needed a few days off work.

It’s an instinct that has driven many Mexicans in the aftermath of the quake. Mexico City saw masses of people pour through streets of rubble and collapsed buildings in an effort to save those that could be saved.

Chavez returned home to discover that his wife had already purchased him an evening flight to Mexico City, as well as a hard hat, gloves, mask, high visibility vest, headlamp, and a first aid kit—nearly all the personal protective equipment he needed to be permitted in disaster areas and help with the massive volunteer response to the quake.

He arrived in Mexico at 11 p.m. on Sept. 22, spent the night at a cousin’s and went out the next morning to register as a volunteer at Parque Mexico in Colonia Condesa.

But, like many volunteers before him, Chavez discovered the military was entirely serious about requiring all civilian volunteers to have every piece of required safety gear in order to access disaster areas.

Chavez was turned away as he did not have steel-toed safety boots.

He went to a shoe store but could not find a correct boot fit. Fortunately, the volunteer command post had gotten a pair of safety boots in his size donated.

Chavez was posted on Chiapas and Monterey to divert traffic and pedestrians away from a building at risk of collapse.

He also spent time volunteering at Alvaro Obregon 286 in Colonia Roma where irregularities in construction may be responsible for the building’s collapse.

Rescue efforts are still underway there and at least 48 people were believed to be trapped. Around 27 people have been rescued alive.

For Chavez, his contribution is a part of something larger. Despite the devastation that has struck the city, there is a hope that shines through in the hearts of everyone trying to help, he said.

“Something good will come out of this. I think of the men, women and children like soldiers who have given their lives for the good of our country. There are no words for all the love that people are giving this country.” 

Anthony Hoffman is a Canadian expat living in Mexico City.