Mexico City Earthquake. What It Felt Like to Be There that Day
After days of anxiety, I finally have time to take a calm hot shower, and do normal things, like shave my legs. I’m back home in California, but I don’t feel safe. I look around the bathroom, I check the ceiling. Then, I remember, the toys in the store falling in the halls, people running, people trying to protect us, police cars, the news, the images, the devastation and the agony of not knowing that everyone was ok for hours. I acknowledge that what happened in Mexico on September 19th, happened to me and my kid too. Tears start filling my eyes. I feel like I’m suffocating, I cry more and more until I see myself in the mirror shaking. I want to, but I can’t stop.
September 19th started with a lot of joy. That day was my parents anniversary, we had breakfast together and we were happy prepping decorations for my mom’s 50th birthday party that was going to be on the following Saturday. I remember watching the news, honoring the heroes of 1985 earthquake. At 11 am there was an earthquake alarm drill. We joked about it. My brother said “Can you imagine if an earthquake were to strike right now?”. My brother, me and Jax went down the stairs with the alarm drill, but everyone else in the building stayed inside, they all knew it was a drill. Around 12:30 pm we left home. My mom had a dentist appointment so she drove us to a mall to pass the time. A few minutes later after entering the mall, we found ourselves looking for the emergency stairs, we were on the third floor when a woman told us that an earthquake was happening. The building started to shake violently and everything around us was falling.
The earthquake struck at 1:14pm Tuesday, Sep. 19th 2017. The alarm went off too late. We didn’t hear it.
It took us two hours to finally contact our mom after the earthquake, cell lines were saturated, everyone wanted to contact friends and family. The police put us in a big empty lot, and we waited for two hours while they checked out the buildings around us for structural damages.
We got a message from my mom around 3:15 pm. She was on her way to pick us up. She was probably about six blocks away, but it took her like an hour to get to the place where we were waiting for her. Traffic was crazy, making really difficult for ambulances and police cars to get help to people in need. We saw some paramedics running, carrying stretchers with people on them, running in between cars and masses of people.
Finally, around 4:15 pm, we met up with my mom. The first thing we heard on the radio, was about the Enrique Rébsamen school and the kids trapped inside the collapsed building. They needed volunteers to move rubble and try to save kids who were still alive. In that moment we knew, that the situation was worse than we originally thought, and we started to cry.
We also heard that we shouldn’t go back to our homes right away. There were gas leaks and buildings collapsing hours after the earthquake due to structural damage. We decided to go to a park and let Jaxon play a little bit.
Four hours later my two brothers contacted my mom. They were ok, one was in a class in the UNAM that afternoon and the other one in the subway underground on his way to his high school. Both were scared, but relieved to know that we were fine too.
My dad had us worried for hours. The anxiety was even painful physically. I remember feeling weak and even ill. He got home around 7pm. Public transportation didn’t work all day, so everyone had to walk home, and he left his cellphone in the building he evacuated from. My dad walked for around five hours to get to the apartment. He was exhausted, but happy to be home.
Finally at home, we hugged. We were ok, and that’s what was important at that moment. We turned on the TV, and saw the devastation around us, it was unreal.
The next day we woke up to realize that a building next to my parents apartment had a gas leak and the one in front of us was in a really bad shape, the balcony had fallen down and they were evacuating everyone who lived there. I remember fearing that it was going to collapse any moment. As you might imagine, I didn’t sleep well for days.
Besides fear and anxiety, I also experienced good things during those days, which made me feel an overwhelming dose of gratefulness and kindness.
I was indeed, living one of the worst moments of my life, but also one of the best.
I saw the poor people giving everything they could to help people with money who had lost everything when their building collapsed. Too many volunteers, too many donations, too much information, too many acts of kindness. I had never seen my country, Mexico, like that. It has been a really powerful and life changing experience.
Days after, I’m sitting down on my sofa watching this video about what would be the real fear after the tragedy. I agree that the worst would be to continue living my life with no purpose, and forget about all the strength and goodness that was shown during the emergency. I made a pact, that my life can’t go back to the same. I feel so much responsibility to the world and to myself.
I still feel pain. I still feel fear. I still sporadically cry and shake when I hear a loud noise. I still hide the sadness from my kid, and I still wake up at night to check that I’m alive and we are all ok. But unlike last week, I now see the good from the bad, and I feel grateful for every second I have and the people around me.
I believe that I saw love in the purest way that you can imagine through this tragedy. Thanks to that, I now believe that ONE person CAN really change the world.
I can’t stop thinking about the guy, who calmly touched my shoulder to let me know that the emergency stairs were right there to our left. I remember his face, and I remember that I couldn’t believe he was going to stay there, helping, putting his own life at risk, to make sure everyone knew how to get to safety during the earthquake.
That man didn’t know, but it change my life forever. He made us feel calm and safe, as he knew that we were going to be ok. I wish I knew his name. I wish I could help him in some way, although I’m almost sure that his life will be full of joy, because I believe that everything good comes back multiplied by a 1000.
I’ll always be grateful to him and to all the heroes who made that day an unforgettable one, in the best of ways. What a blessing to be sharing the world with them today.