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'New Lessons From Quakes'

October 10, 1986

Earthquakes aren't pretty. Reading Robert Jones' article (Sept. 26), "New Lessons From Quakes," revived my memories of working in Mexico City as an independent volunteer from Sept. 22, 1985 until February, 1986.

As a registered nurse, I was part of the rescue team, " Las Estrellas. " Our task, after the first four days, was to identify the dead.

I had nightmares the night before my first time "up top." The next morning, when the call came, we suited up with gas masks, double gloves, with our hair covered and every seam of our outer clothing taped to prevent contamination.

When I arrived "up top," I saw a young man clad in a plaid shirt and jeans partially covered by a slab of concrete. His body was swollen almost beyond recognition. My team members said, "Breathe through your mouth, and if necessary, go vomit. We all do."

On the previous Thursday at 7:10 a.m., the young man had been one of 500 students in Conalep, a technical high school. He was one of the 250 victims that died there. No one trapped in the building lived beyond four days.

During those first 96 short hours, friends, parents and neighbors worked non-stop without sleep to pull out the living victims. One doctor, with the help of one other person, rescued 20 students.

He described coming out of the tunnels at times half crazed with hypoxia from breathing oxygen-poor and dust-filled air.

Earthquake carnage is beyond anyone's wildest fantasy. No newspaper, book or TV camera can begin to show the reality of the horrors of a devastating earthquake. For me, even now the experiences of everything I did and saw is dreamlike and unreal.

Listen up, California. Jones told the truth. It can happen here. The Mexican quake was a big one, nearly 200 times stronger than the 1971 San Fernando quake that toppled a freeway overpass and half-swallowed the Veterans Administration Hospital.

Remember those 60 seconds of 6.5, Los Angeles? Multiply that by three and add 8.1 Richter scale.

What am I doing about earthquakes? I write books and poetry to try to ease the memories. And, like most of my neighbors, I hope that the "Big One" doesn't hit before I get around to storing extra flashlights, food and bottled water. I was in Mexico, and still, I am a fool.


Costa Mesa

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