Today, Mexico experienced a tense and tragic day. At 1:15 pm local time, Esther and I were sitting comfortably in a luxury movie theater on the 4th floor of Reforma 222, a modern shopping mall on Paseo de la Reforma. Ten minutes into the new Tom Cruise film, our seats began to roll. At first, we thought that this might have been part of the premium theater experience. As the shaking continued, and the movie screeched to an abrupt stop, we quickly realized that something was terribly wrong. We shot out of our seats, popcorn in hand, and dashed to the emergency exit on the side of the movie screen. As we rushed toward the exit, the shaking intensified, and it was difficult to keep our balance. As small debris rained down on us from the ceiling above, it felt like we were trying to walk on the deck of a small boat in the middle of an angry ocean.
Stumbling out the emergency exit, we encountered wobbling movie goers and theater staff frantically trying to decide how to save themselves. People were pressed up against the wall, as if petrified. The emergency stairwells were pitch dark, and seemingly impassable. We made a quick decision to run toward the theater entrance, and immediately found ourselves back out in the shopping mall. Now, all we could think about was getting down four floors and out onto the street. Trying to stay calm, we followed the crowd of thousands down the stairs and inoperable escalators to the ground floor, and sprinted out onto the street.
Paseo de la Reforma is a wide boulevard with expansive pedestrian sidewalks. The theater is in the financial district, amidst the city’s tallest and most modern skyscrapers. Out on the street, vehicles were stopped, and hundreds of thousands of people were standing in shock. We saw paramedics administering individuals first aid. A pregnant woman holding her lower abdomen, was escorted through the crowd by concerned medical personnel. Helicopters circled overhead, and emergency vehicle sirens seemed to converge on us from every direction.
People looked at their phones anxiously, as they tried to place a call or send a text. We tried to notify our family by cell phone, but the circuits were overwhelmed, and we could not get through. Eventually, we made our way back to our apartment building, and went into the lobby. The manager informed us that the building had suffered some cosmetic damage, but that the power and water were functional, and it was safe to go up to our third floor unit. Inside the apartment, we were able to access wifi to send out text messages and an Instagram post to our family and friends back home.
Worried about the potential for aftershocks, we decided to pack a day pack with clothes, food, water, and our important documents, and go back out onto the street. We wandered the streets for hours, finding broken windows, broken glass, structural damage and concrete rubble throughout the neighborhoods. Police barricades prevented us from seeing the most severely damaged structures. People stared at the damage in awe, and a strange somber silence fell upon the street scene. Meanwhile, traffic choked the streets, with drivers standing outside their vehicles with nowhere to go.
Eventually, the traffic gridlock began to loosen up and the people on the street started to walk home. It will probably be several hours before they make it to their destinations. At this point, we decided to head back to our apartment, make dinner, and watch the television news. On the news, we learned that the quake had registered a 7.1 magnitude and was centered in the state of Puebla, approximately 75 miles (120 km) southeast of our location in downtown Mexico City. The death toll had already exceeded 100, and is certain to expand significantly in the days ahead.
Ironically, this was the 32nd anniversary of the historic 1985 Mexico City earthquake that killed 10,000 people. In recognition of the 1985 event the city had just completed an extensive earthquake simulation drill two hours before today’s real deal. The timing of the simulation certainly facilitated evacuation efforts and definitely helped to save lives. This evening, as the images of the damage and on-going rescue efforts continue to play non-stop on the local news stations, we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be safe and sound in the comfort of our apartment. On this tense and tragic day, millions of other Mexico City residents were not so lucky.
Blogger’s Note: The following photos show some of the damaged buildings that we saw in just a few square blocks around our apartment. They are not representative of the damage to Mexico City. There are several buildings around the city that have completely collapsed, many with people still inside. Emergency personnel are currently working through the night to try to rescue the trapped.
Blogger’s Note: The day following the earthquake, we went into the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods, and witnessed some of the significant damage, including a collapsed six-story building. The destruction is staggering, and the victim’s losses are heartbreaking. The rescue efforts are heroic, and the volunteer efforts are overwhelming.