Mexico City: coming together after falling apart

Jackie Cohen, photo editor

I didn’t find out about the magnitude 7.1 earthquake that hit Mexico City Sept. 19 in the conventional way.

My parents grew up in Mexico City and part of my family still lives there, so I heard about the earthquake from my family’s group message, where they were sending videos and photos they had received directly from people they know in Mexico. There was a photo of two massive holes in my aunt’s apartment, a photo of the fallen facade of one of the oldest synagogues in Mexico, Jewish prayer books scattered across the ground and videos of entire buildings collapsing.

I was scared for my family members, but upon my parents’ reassurance that they were all OK, I started to think about the fact that I was set to land in Mexico City on Friday, Sept. 22 – three days after the earthquake – for my cousin’s wedding. I wondered whether the airport would be closed or if the wedding would be canceled.

They were not.

On Friday, I landed in Mexico City, not knowing what to expect. We left the airport in an Uber and headed for my grandparents’ house. At first, I couldn’t see much of a difference between the city now and when I had visited in March. There was still traffic and people were honking as usual. But after a few minutes, I realized that the traffic wasn’t caused by the city’s overpopulation – it was caused by people trying to catch a glimpse of the rubble of what was once a building.
For the rest of the ride, I stared out my window, trying to take in as much as I could. There were buildings with massive cracks that will likely be torn down later on, broken windows and holes in the buildings.

While people tried to continue about their lives in regular ways, conversations never veered too far from the earthquake, whether it was people talking about where they were when it struck or receiving numerous messages about different supplies being collected. Some remembered the earthquake that hit Mexico City exactly 32 years before, on Sept. 19, 1985. The magnitude 8.1 earthquake killed thousands of people, according to the Mexican Servicio Sismologico Nacional (National Seismic Services). Others feared aftershocks and potential of future earthquakes.

People in Mexico were already fearful of the aftershocks that could follow the earthquake, but a fake news story made it worse. On Sept. 22, I was having dinner in Mexico City with some of my relatives when we learned about a tweet that had scared some people. The story said that the United Nations had warned that a magnitude 10.5 earthquake would hit Mexico City in the next half hour. This was obviously not true, because the Richter scale only goes up to 10, and earthquakes cannot be predicted. While this did not happen, a magnitude 6.1 aftershock shook Mexico City on Saturday, Sept. 23. I somehow slept through the earthquake and the seismic warning sirens and didn’t find out about it until my Chapman roommate texted me to ask if I was OK.

Conversations about the earthquake also included talk of the at least 226 people killed, the more than 3,000 buildings that were damaged and the government’s corruption with donations. The governor of Morelos, south of Mexico City, was accused of taking donations sent by people from all over the country and repackaging them to have his political party’s logo on them, according to La Opinion,, a Spanish-language newspaper published in Los Angeles. I was shocked to hear that people could care more about their political campaign than about helping people. As a result, many of my family’s friends drove to places that suffered more damages and handed supplies directly to the people in need to make sure their donations were going straight to the people affected.

With all of this destruction and fear, there was also hope. On most blocks and traffic circles, there were containers collecting donations. People my age were volunteering and bringing food and supplies to rescuers while the older people sent donations. People were in direct contact with rescuers, asking for the specific supplies that were needed. Volunteers from Japan, Israel, Chile, the U.S., Spain and other countries helped check buildings for damages and rescue people trapped in rubble. The entire community seemed to be coming together.

Leave a Comment