4 minute read
23 Sep 2017
12:34 am

What now? Mexicans in shelters ask themselves after quake


Erika Albarran, a 33-year-old street vendor, was feeding her baby when the 7.1-magnitude quake struck Mexico City.

Both survived, but her home was damaged and now she’s in a shelter, with no money, not knowing how to face the future.

Like thousands living in the capital, Albarran saw her daily life upended in the long seconds of the earthquake, which killed more than 270 people.

It is estimated that 2,000 homes suffered structural damage, with many too unsafe to return to. Their occupants are homeless.

“I’m waiting for the civil protection service to tell me if we can go home or not,” she said.

“We don’t have cash. We’re living day to day. Being a vendor now, sales aren’t good,” added Albarran, whose sells candy and fruit juice.

She is now sleeping in one of 50 shelters set up to take people left with nowhere to go.

The numbers using them fluctuate, making it difficult to calculate how many were left homeless, the city’s authorities said. Also, many people in unsafe lodgings were taken in by family or friends.

And some people are sleeping in the streets.

– Donations –

Officials are currently focusing on trying to find more survivors in the rubble of dozens of buildings that were toppled, and tending to those injured.

It will be only later that attention will turn to evaluating property damage, looking after those affected, and reconstruction.

Albarran, whose husband also survived, spent part of Tuesday night after the earthquake sleeping in an ATM entranceway of a bank.

Her family has only 100 pesos ($5.50) among them, and the children were getting hungry.

But then they heard of the shelters and made it to one, where there was free donated food. So much food has been given that some centers were overflowing with it.

“Without food, we wouldn’t have made it. We left without anything — no diapers, no milk,” Albarran said.

“But here they’ve given us everything: clothes, milk, diapers.”

She knows, though, that the assistance won’t last forever.

– No insurance –

Martha Alba, a 61-year-old retiree, has a message for her friends, telling them to “find a secure home.”

After a 1985 earthquake that killed 10,000 people in Mexico City — and which occurred on the same day 32 years before Tuesday’s quake — she had bought an apartment cheaply in the upmarket district of Condesa.

The area, hard hit this week, is one of the most vulnerable to quakes. Yet in recent years it’s witnessed a boom in apartments costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That prestige has proved costly to Alba.

“My home was badly damaged. It’s impossible to go into it,” she said.

“I poured all my years of work into buying that place.”

After the quake, she was put up in a friend’s house. She spent Thursday looking for an apartment to rent.

But uncertainty dogs her quest. She doesn’t know how long she will have to rent, or if her apartment building can be reinforced. Above all, she harbors the fear that the earth could shake again.

“I’m safe. The earthquake put me out into the street. But, as always, the middle class ends up suffering a lot,” she said.

“The rich have enough to buy elsewhere, and the poor — even though this sounds harsh — are used to having nothing, and they are the first to get help from the government.”

As for insurance, there’s little chance of property owners being indemnified. Only around five percent of them have policies, it is estimated. Insurance isn’t a customary reflex in Mexico, despite its vulnerability to seismic upheaval.

– Living in limbo –

Eloisa Tamayo, 72, was also wondering what she will do, post-quake.

“That’s what you ask yourself: What next? We are in limbo,” she said, holding her small dog, Moni.

She lived alone with her pet in an apartment in Morelos, a state just south of the capital that was also badly hit by the quake.

She has been told her building didn’t suffer major damage. But she fears going back.

“A building collapsed right close to where I live. Now I’m too afraid to stay,” she said, adding that during the quake her only concern was for her dog.

Engineers and architects called on by Mexico City’s municipality are criss-crossing the city to decide whether people are able to return to certain buildings.

Albarran, like many, is hoping that she will get a go-ahead to go home.