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Nearly a week on, hopes fade in Mexico City quake rescue operations
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 25, 2017

Rain was 'most wonderful feeling' on Mexico quake survivor's face
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 25 - When rain fell on Lucia Zamora's face after long hours trapped in a coffin-like airspace amid the rubble of Mexico's quake, it "was the most wonderful feeling of my life."

The 32-year-old Mexican marketing consultant recounted an ordeal of more than 30 hours that started on Tuesday afternoon when the 7.1 earthquake hit Mexico City, bringing down the office block she was in, along with dozens of other buildings.

The suffocating isolation made her think she would die.

When the trembling started, Zamora told AFP, she grabbed her phone and went to the reception area on the third floor of the six-story structure.

From there, she and a workmate, Isaac, started to run for the fire escape -- but never made it.

"I fell halfway, and that was when the roof collapsed on top of us," she said.

"When everything stopped falling, the worst part started: you could hear screams, yells, people crying."

She checked her phone, but was unable to make calls.

"Little by little, I started to see I was in a tiny space, and I realized I was isolated. I only had a few scrapes. And I was next to Isaac... I practically couldn't move," Zamora said.

After asking each other if they were OK, the gravity of the situation sunk in.

"It's a shock. You find yourself there and you can't believe it. There was a wall about a hand's width from my face," she said.

"As the hours passed, bit by bit we came to accept the reality of it. And each time we heard noises, we yelled nonstop so someone would hear us: 'Help! We're here!'"

- 'Eternity' under the debris -

With no response, she and Isaac discussed where their other colleagues might be, and how things might have been different if they had acted differently, or sooner.

"But Isaac said to me, we went to the emergency exit. We did what we were supposed to do," Zamora said.

"And I said, if we're both here in this spot it's because it was the right spot to find ourselves in. Maybe two steps more and we would have died.... What kept me going was the simple fact of still being alive."

Zamora said they shared much of their life stories during those hours of anguish, even though they barely knew each other before disaster struck.

At one point, they heard yells from another trapped colleague nearby, and asked her if she could hear any sounds from outside.

"The rescue took an eternity," Zamora said.

"It took until the next day to be rescued. I don't have the timeframe clear. But around 4:00 or 5:00 pm, we started to hear a lot of noises and machinery getting closer.

"That was when both of us started to yell out together, even though we were very tired," she added.

"And after a while, we heard a man ask, 'Are you there?' and it was the first time we'd heard someone else and a really special joy washed over us, and we gave them our names."

- Rescue 'like a birth' -

But even then, it took around another six hours of captivity under the tons of rubble before a way could be cleared to get them out.

"During that time, we stayed in contact with the rescue workers, swapping jokes, promising to invite them to dinner. They said they'd seen a photo of me, that I had a beautiful smile," Zamora said.

"Nobody should ever lose hope in these guys and their profession."

Finally an opening was made, and the rescue workers gained access.

"An arm reached in and took my hand, and for me it was a breath of fresh air, though I still couldn't see any light," Zamora recalled.

"They put me in a harness and ended up pulling me out -- and I so wanted to live.

"When I got out, it was raining -- and the rain on my face was the most wonderful feeling in my life," she added.

Around her, everybody applauded.

Hopes of finding more survivors after Mexico City's devastating earthquake have dwindled to virtually nothing, nearly a week after the seismic jolt shook the mega-city, killing more than 300 people.

Yet authorities were still accommodating anguished families who insisted that painstaking rescue operations continue at a handful of the dozens of buildings toppled by the magnitude 7.1 quake that struck Tuesday.

Foreign teams from Israel, the US and elsewhere worked with dogs and hi-tech gear to try to detect signs of life under the rubble.

In the first three days, 69 people were pulled out alive. But since late Friday, only bodies have been recovered.

On a poster in front of a collapsed office block where several people were trapped by the quake, a picture of one of those inside read: "Adrian, you are a warrior. Your family, friends and Dario are waiting for you."

A series of smaller earthquakes in the south of Mexico on Saturday -- including a 6.1-magnitude tremor that triggered seismic alerts -- stoked panic in a population traumatized by Tuesday's disaster. Two women in the capital died of heart attacks.

The shaking also forced a brief suspension of rescue efforts.

- Prone to quakes -

The tremors underlined the historic vulnerability of the country to quakes, sitting as it does atop five tectonic plates.

A 1985 earthquake that killed 10,000 people in Mexico City is still fresh in the minds of locals so many years later.

But some of the families hoping against hope to see trapped loved ones again also clung to memories of "miracle" rescues in 1985 that happened more than a week after that quake.

Experts say that, usually, there is little to no chance of finding quake survivors after three days.

Yet Mexico City's mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, insisted that around 30 people may still be found alive.

"I want to make absolutely clear that for the moment no building will be demolished and no type of heavy machinery will be used until we are fully certain" that all survivors and bodies are recovered, Navy Captain Sergio Suazo told reporters.

The smell of decaying bodies wafting from collapsed buildings presaged grief for some relatives.

Rescue workers wore face masks to shield themselves from the odor.

From the rubble of a flattened building in the south of the capital, emergency workers pulled out another body early Sunday. A thermal scanner on Saturday had suggested that two people might still be alive under the debris.

Survivors of another sort were found in the rubble of two crumpled buildings: a little white schnauzer dog and a squawking green parrot named Lucas.

Volunteer veterinarians were on hand at many search sites to give medical attention to saved pets, and to the sniffer dogs looking for survivors.

- 'Here to save lives' -

The Mexican and foreign crews bent on rescuing survivors refused to call it quits.

"We're here to save lives. You have to have faith and believe (the people inside) are in a place with access to air and managed to survive," said Karin Kvitca, a 29-year-old with an Israeli rescue crew.

So far, the foreign specialists have found only cadavers. At one point, Japanese rescuers removed their helmets and bowed before a recovered corpse.

The Japanese team later ended their task and pulled out, after a small ceremony.

The latest death toll stands at 319, of which 181 of the fatalities were recorded in Mexico City.

The rest of the deaths occurred in the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

In Mexico state, President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed there would be a rapid evaluation of the damage caused, and swift reconstruction of homes, schools and businesses.

"We remain very motivated, very united," he said.

In the south of the capital, white wreaths were placed by the rubble of what used to be a school in the south of the capital where 19 children and six adults died.

An eight-year-old boy recovered alive was in an induced coma in hospital. He received videos rooting him on from his football heroes, including Dani Alves of Paris Saint-Germain and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich.

Rapid imaging of granular matter
Zurich, Switzerland (SPX) Sep 25, 2017
Even in our modern world full of highly technological machines and devices it is still impossible to predict when rockslides, such as the recent one in Graubunden, or earthquakes will occur and how exactly they evolve. This is partly due to the fact that despite many years of research, scientists have only just begun to understand the behaviour of gravel and sand, particularly when mixed with wa ... read more

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