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Quake Ruins Yield More Survivors : Desperate Rescue Efforts Continue; Toll Climbs to 4,000

September 23, 1985|DAN WILLIAMS | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Shouts of "Alive!" or more often a murmured "Dead" broke through the din of sledgehammers and bulldozers Sunday as rescue workers, bolstered by foreign assistance, stepped up their frantic efforts to dig out survivors and victims of Mexico City's earthquakes.

More survivors were pulled from the rubble, and international aid poured in to help Mexico recover from the two quakes Thursday and Friday that killed thousands and left legions of homeless people living in the streets. Officials reported that they had recovered 2,832 bodies by late Sunday and put the death toll at 4,000, but others, including U.S. Ambassador to Mexico John Gavin, have projected a total of at least 10,000 dead.

The Mexican Red Cross said 180,000 people in Mexico City were directly affected by the back-to-back quakes. The first hit Thursday morning and measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. The Friday aftershock, a major quake in its own right, measured 7.3.

Estimates of the physical damage sustained by the capital and four adjacent states were increased. Mexico City Mayor Ramon Aguirre said that well over 400 buildings were either seriously damaged or destroyed and that another 196 still standing will have to be demolished and more than 200 repaired.

About a quarter of the most severely damaged buildings were either owned or used by government agencies; it was unclear how many were government-built.

All over the city, a new traffic sign appeared on street corners. The sign--a drawing of a building with a red slash over it--warned pedestrians and drivers away from structures on the verge of collapse.

After the Mexican government reversed itself and agreed to accept aid from abroad, aircraft from around the world began to shuttle relief supplies to the stricken capital, the world's largest with about 18 million people.

Disaster-relief and demolition experts from the United States, France, Switzerland and Germany joined the thousands of Mexican Red Cross workers and citizen-volunteers hunting through the mountains of rubble. Using ultrasound equipment, muscle power and dogs trained to detect the scent of humans, the workers crawled over wreckage, pulling back fallen ceilings and walls to look for victims.

Volunteer medical teams from the United States, Cuba and several other Latin American countries rushed to the capital to back up Mexico's own beleaguered corps of medical personnel. Hundreds of doctors, nurses and medical technicians were feared dead in the collapse of three hospitals.

A C-141 transport plane arrived from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, carrying a 19-member team organized by two construction companies, the H.B. Zachary company of San Antonio and Spirit Construction of Baton Rouge, La. The team will evaluate structures for demolition.

The plane also brought 1,000 respirators for firefighters and portable generators.

U.S. Air Force Flight

The United States sent a C-141 Air Force cargo plane to Mexico City loaded with water pumps, power saws, water cans, sleeping bags, field jackets, generators and cots to help with the rescue efforts and to supply the shelters springing up in the city to house the homeless, said U.S. Defense Department spokesman Larry Icenogle.

Governments of more than 20 other nations and international organizations sent tons of food, medicine and other provisions.

The Red Cross began shipping medical supplies in response to appeals from the Mexican Red Cross. The first plane load contained 10,000 pounds of urgently needed intravenous fluids and equipment.

Later, the Red Cross put out a bulletin asking for 30,000 units of tetanus and typhus vaccine, 30,000 units of gamma globulin and 10,000 units of anesthesia, ham radio operators reported. Anesthetics were said to be in especially short supply.

The massive relief effort was impeded by a shortage of earth-moving and demolition equipment--and by disorganization.

Lack of Coordination

"The movement that is under way is enormous," said President Miguel de la Madrid during a tour of the devastation, but he acknowledged that rescue efforts had lacked coordination.

"The action will be more organized in the coming days when the capital of the republic begins to return to normal and the services are re-established as soon as possible," De la Madrid said.

"We have many deaths to lament," he added, "but at the same time we have been able to save many lives. Saving lives has been the first priority of this emergency program."

The armed forces are overseeing the mobilization of 50,000 volunteers and 20,000 troops, some of whom have not slept for days.

Despite dwindling hopes of finding survivors, some near-miraculous rescues were reported. The government said more than 1,000 survivors have been pulled from crumpled buildings.

12 Students Rescued

Twelve students trapped in the jumble of what had been the five-story Conalep Technical School downtown were discovered over the weekend. More are believed to be buried alive inside.

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