MEXICO CITY — Exhausted rescue workers Saturday wielded picks and shovels against the massive devastation of Mexico City, racing time and continuing aftershocks in their search for victims still trapped in debris as the death toll from two giant earthquakes mounted.
The Mexican government raised its official death toll to 3,000 late Saturday, and a Mexican newspaper put the number of dead at 4,000. More than 2,000 were known to be trapped in two collapsed hospitals alone. Thousands remained caught in the wreckage of apartment buildings, offices and schools demolished by the quakes, which struck Thursday morning and then again Friday night.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico John Gavin, in what he described as a "guess," estimated that the total fatalities could reach as high as 10,000.
"We are talking surely of 10,000 and maybe more," he said at a Mexico City news conference after a helicopter tour of the stricken area. "It could be twice that number."
"My friend, it is impossible to say at this moment how many lived and how many died," said Baladier Beltran Correa, head of the temporary morgue at the city's Cuauthemoc district headquarters.
At Least 15,000 Hurt
Mexico City police said that at least 15,000 people were injured and are being treated and that another 20,000 are homeless. They also counted 196 buildings so battered by the back-to-back quakes that they will have to be demolished.
At least five Americans were listed among the dead. U.S. authorities Saturday identified one as Georgiana Mary Yunes, 30, who was born in San Antonio but lived in Mexico. Late Friday, they announced that Mary Elizabeth Vallejo, 34, and her two children--Ilse Ann Vallejo, 8, and Alonso Vallejo, 5--also perished when they were struck by falling debris. A fifth American was not identified, pending notification of relatives.
Vallejo's family in Cozad, Neb., said they believe that Mary Vallejo's husband, a Mexican national, also died.
36 Hours After First
The aftershock that rocked Mexico City late Friday, 36 hours after the first temblor shuddered through the city, registered 7.3 on the Richter scale. Authorities said initial indications were that it caused few deaths or injuries, but it toppled previously teetering structures, including at least 20 major buildings, sent windows crashing into the streets, cut gas lines and tore the cross off an old church.
As cracks in walls and stairwells widened from the aftershock, thousands of residents abandoned their apartment buildings in fear that future tremors would bring the structures crashing down. In the hardest-hit neighborhoods, people camped in the streets and refused to reenter their homes.
The U.S. State Department said three hospitals, the Hotel Aristo, a facility popular with tourists, and other structures were destroyed in Friday's quake.
The Cafe Havana, a legendary coffeehouse where Fidel Castro reportedly planned the Cuban revolution, crumbled to the ground Friday, but there were no reported injuries.
The Friday quake toppled the cross from the Tacuba Church and left its tower leaning precariously.
Genie Davis, an American Red Cross worker returning from Mexico City to her home in Wichita Falls, Tex., said a number of people were trapped when Friday's earthquake smashed a Sears Roebuck department store.
"I was told that there were people in the store shopping at the time of the quake," Davis said. "Ambulances were bringing in more people. There were all sorts of rescue teams."
The aftershock, like its predecessor, the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck Thursday morning, was centered on the Mexican coast 200 miles from Mexico City. Additional aftershocks, including one that registered 4.3 on the Richter scale, rolled through the battered city Saturday.
Many Staying Outside
Initial reports said relatively few people were killed or hurt in the Friday jolt because so many residents were staying outside, away from precarious buildings.
Israel Diaz huddled under a Red Cross blanket and described the aftershock that renewed terror among dazed Mexicans.
"We felt the tremor, saw the dust and watched an office block crumble to nothing," he said.
The massive aftershock only temporarily disrupted the feverish rescue efforts of 100,000 volunteers who fanned out across the capital in search of residents who were buried alive. Mexican authorities said that 600 people have been pulled from the ruins alive since Thursday but that far more have been found dead.
The deaths were not limited to Mexico City. As reports--hampered by faulty telephone lines--came in irregularly from the Mexican countryside, the toll grew.
300 Dead in Colima
In Colima, the city nearest the epicenter, an estimated 300 were dead and hundreds were injured, a television station in Monterrey reported.