Rescuers endeavored against defeating odds as dawn broke on Thursday to save a 12-year-old schoolgirl and other possible survivors trapped beneath debris in central Mexico following the country’s deadliest earthquake in 32 years.
At least 237 others have died and 1,900 were injured. The quake killed 102 people in Mexico City and the remaining 135 from five surrounding states, officials said on Wednesday.
At least nine Latin American countries pledged search-and-rescue teams or technical assistance, as did the United States, Spain, Japan and Israel, and crews from Panama and El Salvador were already on the job.
The Panamanian team of 32 rescue workers dressed in orange jumpsuits and helmets and two dogs arrived with seven days’ worth of food, water and supplies and prepared to work around the clock, said Cesar Lange, leader of the Panamanian Civil Protection unit.
Leading the volunteer rescue efforts were Mexico City’s own ‘mole’ rescue workers, a search group formed in the wake of the 1985 quake and renowned for their fearless tunneling into damaged buildings to save survivors in disasters around the globe.
Tuesday’s temblor came on the anniversary of the 1985 quake that killed thousands and still resonates in Mexico. Annual Sept. 19 earthquake drills were being held a few hours before the nation got rocked once again.
More than 50 survivors have been plucked from several disaster sites in Mexico City since Tuesday afternoon’s 7.1-magnitude quake, leading to impassioned choruses of “Yes we can!” from the first responders, volunteers and spectators gathered around the ruins.
As the chance of survival diminished with each passing hour, officials vowed to continue with search-and-rescue efforts such as the one at a collapsed school in the south of the capital. At the site, Navy-led rescuers have communicated with the 12-year-old girl, but were still unable to dig her free.
Eleven other children were rescued from the Enrique Rebsamen School, where students are aged roughly six to 15. Twenty-one children and four adults there were killed.
Rescuers had earlier seen a hand protruding from the debris and the girl wiggled her fingers when asked if she was still alive, according to broadcaster Televisa, whose cameras had special access to the scene to provide nonstop live coverage.
But some 15 hours into the effort, Admiral Jose Luis Vergara said rescuers could not pinpoint the location of the girl, identified only as Frida Sofia.
“There’s a girl alive in there, we’re pretty sure of that, but we still don’t know how to get to her,” Vergara told Televisa.
“The hours that have passed complicate the chances of finding alive or in good health the person who might be trapped,” he said.
Thousands of people have donated food, water, medicine, blankets and other basic items to help relief efforts. Companies provided free services and restaurants delivered food to shelters where thousands of people have sought refuge after their homes were damaged.