Mexicans Risk Their Lives to Salvage Belongings From Quake-Damaged Buildings

September 23, 2017 Updated: September 23, 2017

Driven out of their homes by an earthquake, many Mexicans now return to damaged buildings to retrieve their belongings, despite the risk of the structures collapsing on top of them.

The Sept. 19 earthquake (magnitude 7.1) caused over 300 deaths and collapsed over 40 buildings in central Mexico.

Over 3,000 buildings have been declared unsafe by the government. Locals are afraid another earthquake may come soon as multiple smaller quakes hit the south of the country on Saturday, Sept. 23. But many still risk returning to their damaged homes to salvage what they can.

A huge crack split apart a 14-story apartment building in the low-income Doctores neighborhood of Mexico City. Still, people climb the stairs, now visible from outside through the crack, to get their belongings.

A crack splitting an apartment building in Mexico City on Sept. 23, 2017, after an earthquake hit the area on Sept. 19. (Anthony Hoffman)

The authorities declared the building unsafe, but allowed tenants to go grab what they could at their own risk. The building administrator, who identified herself only as Jacquelin, allowed only one tenant in at the time. Each got one hour, but some broke the limit, trying to carry out refrigerators.

Private trucks haul away the salvaged possessions.

People by their belongings retrieved from an apartment building in Mexico City on Sept. 23, 2017, after an earthquake hit the area on Sept. 19. (Anthony Hoffman)

There is no aid and no media in the area, according to Anthony Hoffman, a Canadian expat living in the heart of Mexico City in the Colonia Roma neighborhood.

Mexicans in general distrust or even despise their government. After the quake, they didn’t wait for government aid or coordination and headed out to help with the rescue efforts, catching up on coordination as they went along.

“The citizens kind of took control,” Hoffman said.

Gradually, the military started to take over. It required volunteers to wear helmets, vests, and boots.

Mexico has been hit by multiple strong earthquakes this month, starting with magnitude-8.1 one on Sept. 7 off the coast of the state of Chiapas. It caused at least 91 deaths and damaged 41,000 homes.

A crack splitting an apartment building in Mexico City on Sept. 23, 2017, after an earthquake hit the area on Sept. 19. (Anthony Hoffman)
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