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Will a new Mexico arise from earthquake's rubble
By Sylvain ESTIBAL
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 27, 2017

A week after quake, thousands still homeless in Mexico
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 27, 2017 - A week after an earthquake that killed more than 300 people, thousands of Mexicans were still unable to return Tuesday to their badly damaged homes, much less their normal lives.

After a week of eerie quiet in Mexico City, the capital's notorious traffic jams were visible again as the sprawling city of 20 million people began returning to work and school.

But many residents still had nowhere to go after losing everything in last Tuesday's 7.1-magnitude quake.

"You think it will never happen to you. I've lost track of what day it is. All we've managed to do is find some donated clothing, because we were left with nothing but the clothes on our backs," said journalist Gerardo Alvarez, a 31-year-old Venezuelan.

He and his wife have been staying with friends since the quake, which left their apartment building on the verge of collapse.

They are hunting for a new apartment, but prices in undamaged buildings have soared in the past week, he told AFP.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera has announced that those made homeless by the quake will receive temporary rent support of some $170 a month.

Architects and engineers have meanwhile been crisscrossing the disaster zone evaluating some 9,000 damaged buildings to decide which can be repaired and which must be demolished.

Thirty-nine buildings collapsed in the quake. Another 700 need repairs, and 300 have major damage.

- September 19 -

The city center was a bizarre mix of shops and restaurants going about business as usual, alongside collapsed and damaged buildings cordoned off by barriers and yellow tape.

Outside some afflicted buildings, people gathered waiting for authorities to tell them when they could go back in to get the things they left behind last Tuesday at 1:14 pm.

In a nasty twist of fate, the 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck on the anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed more than 10,000 people, the worst in the country's history.

Improbably, it hit just two hours after an annual earthquake drill, turning Mexico City's most seismically unstable neighborhoods into post-apocalyptic scenes.

In the trendy Roma neighborhood, shell-shocked and sobbing residents rushed into the street, disoriented and desperate for news of their loved ones -- impossible to get in the early minutes, with cell phone networks saturated.

Slowly, a picture of the destruction began to emerge: 39 buildings crumpled to the ground across the capital, trapping hundreds of people inside. Scores more were killed in the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

Just as in 1985, thousands of volunteer rescuers sprang into action, scrambling onto the mountains of mangled steel and concrete to dig through the rubble with their bare hands in a desperate search for survivors.

Rescue teams from across Mexico and around the world soon joined them.

Across the city, 69 people were pulled alive from the wreckage in the first days.

But since late Friday, only bodies have been recovered.

Now, the delicate question facing the nation is how long to keep up the search.

- 'Our patience is over' -

Rescue workers have now wrapped up their efforts at all but a few sites in Mexico City, and the chances of pulling more survivors from the rubble are dim.

Emergency teams from Japan, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama have headed home.

The government faced protests Monday night by seething relatives of those still inside the biggest search site, a seven-story office building in the hard-hit Roma neighborhood.

The latest death toll stands at 333 people -- 194 of them in Mexico City.

An earthquake releases energy that has accumulated for years between the Earth's tectonic plates.

The one that struck Mexico last week could also release energy of a different kind: a transformative new grassroots political and social movement.

No sooner had the ground stopped shaking last Tuesday than Mexicans from all walks of life sprang into action.

Human chains formed to excavate the rubble of buildings that collapsed with people inside. Volunteers flooded the disaster zone to bring food, water and every imaginable supply.

Impromptu clinics sprouted on the streets offering free medical care, legal advice, psychological counseling and more.

Faced with a tragedy that battered the city and claimed more than 300 lives, Mexico put its best foot forward, responding with an explosion of civic action.

The nation's new heroes are the ordinary citizens who helped save lives in the aftermath, such as the man in a wheelchair photographed helping remove rubble from a collapsed building with his bare hands -- a picture that went viral.

"If only our politicians could be more like you," a radio host told him during an interview Tuesday.

The quake showed the latent power of ordinary citizens in a country at a loss to deal with its chronic problems of violent crime and political corruption.

"The earthquake woke us up from our lethargy and showed us that in just 50 seconds we can become another country," said actor Eugenio Derbez in a message to the country.

"Not the Mexico of corrupt politicians, not the Mexico of people who kill, steal, rob, lie. The Mexico of people who take to the street and risk their lives to save others."

- National pride -

Newfound national pride has been visible in the Mexican flags on cars, balconies and rescuers' helmets.

"You can do it -- you're Mexican!" said a poster rooting on rescuers at one collapse site.

Mexicans have a history of rising up stronger from the rubble of earthquakes.

After a 1985 quake that ironically struck on the same day, September 19, ordinary Mexicans rallied to rescue survivors from the ruins and fill the void left by an overwhelmed government.

Many political analysts say that moment was the beginning of Mexican civil society.

Newly organized and empowered, Mexicans began demanding more democracy from their single-party state, eventually ousting the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in 2000 after 71 years in power.

The latest disaster could herald a new metaphorical earthquake in Mexican politics and society.

"The 7.1-magnitude earthquake reminded a large and marvelous majority that the future of our country is in its hands," wrote columnist Yuriria Sierra in the newspaper Excelsior.

- Election year -

That newfound power could reshape the country with less than a year to go to general elections.

Hinting at the potential for civic action to transform into political power, noted historian Enrique Krauze called Saturday for the creation of a National Reconstruction Commission that would include young people who took to the streets this past week.

In almost the same breath, he urged political parties to hold at least 10 public debates before July's elections, saying Mexico is "a democracy without debate."

Wary of the potential threat, traditional political parties have sought to seize back the initiative.

The head of the PRI, Enrique Ochoa, announced the party would donate its $14.4 million in state campaign financing to the rebuilding effort.

The party -- which returned to power in 2012 with the election of President Enrique Pena Nieto -- will back a plan to strip parties of all public funding in 2018, he said.

The idea was condemned as "demagogic and irresponsible" by the former head of the National Electoral Institute, Luis Carlos Ugalde.

Krauze said that if the 1985 earthquake marked the birth of Mexican civil society, 2017's should launch "a new era of solidarity."

"We have to save Mexico's future from this rubble, with our efforts and resources. Not tomorrow. Today."

In Mexico's earthquake, tragedies and miracles
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 26, 2017
More than 300 people were killed in last week's earthquake that rocked Mexico - and behind the numeric toll are hundreds more poignant stories that survivors will always remember. Here is a collection of accounts from the hard-hit capital Mexico City: - A sister's love - "We're here, the whole family. We will not move until we have you with us," Karina Ganoa cried out through a meg ... read more

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