Quake Relief: Concern Flows With Supplies

Times staff writer

For Dr. Rosamaria Durazo, one of three UCLA physicians just back from Mexico City, the devastation of the once-great hospital where she trained and later lectured was almost beyond comprehension.

She said the words of her former colleagues, Dr. Guillermina Saavedra and Dr. Beatriz Ansura, told the story: “We lost everything. We don’t even have a hypodermic needle. We have nothing left.”

Saavedra is director of the obstetrics-gynecology department and Ansura is director of pediatrics at the 2,200-bed Mexico City General Hospital.


“The General Hospital and 1,500-bed Medical Center of the Social Security were the largest medical facilities, and they are both down,” the weary Durazo said. “They are both government hospitals, like the county hospital here, the places where the poor go.”

Durazo, assistant professor of anesthesiology, flew to Mexico City on Wednesday with Dr. Jack Magit, clinical associate professor of anesthesiology, and Dr. Ronald Katz, chief of staff at UCLA Medical Center. They were on the first of the daily shuttle flights organized by industrialist Armand Hammer.

Hammer, chairman of the board of Occidental Petroleum, arranged for his corporate Boeing 727 and his smaller Gulfstream executive jet to carry medical supplies to the earthquake-stricken Mexican capital as long as the need continues.

Magit, a veteran of World War II, said what he saw in Mexico City was “visually much worse than anything I saw in Europe . . . and I worked in field hospitals in Cologne and London.”

“We were able to bring in supplies for anesthesiology, drugs of that nature, which were very desperately needed,” he said. “All of the instruments we brought in were being used right away.”

Frank Ashley, spokesman for Occidental, said his company sent tetanus vaccine for 20,000 people, while other firms donated catheters, cartons of sutures and about 4,000 bottles of liquid baby formula that does not require water.

He said Presbyterian Hospital in Whittier has offered 200 obstetrics beds, and he is trying to get air transport for them. “Women are giving birth, and there are no beds,” Ashley said.

Ashley said the airlift is mainly carrying medical supplies and personnel. “We haven’t sent any toys, but I think it is a wonderful idea,” he said. “We’re trying to get life-saving equipment there now, but anytime we have room beyond immediate needs, we will try to send some toys.”

The Occidental flights are part of a larger effort by Southern California companies and charitable agencies to provide supplies and personnel in the aftermath of the 8.1 quake that struck Sept. 19.

Susana Oses of Hollywood, Cuban-born reservations manager for Mexicana Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport, headed a group of 10 employees who spent two days of their off-duty time delivering supplies to relief centers in and around Mexico City.

Need for Toys Noted

She said she also is concerned about the children. “They don’t have any toys,” Oses said, “and there is nothing like a toy to alleviate a child’s trauma.”

One of the most poignant encounters she recalled in Mexico City was with a mentally retarded child found wandering the streets. “He can talk,” she said, “but he can’t explain who he is or who his parents are or anything--if they died. I don’t know what they will do with him.”

The most vivid scene for Astrid Martinez of Hermosa Beach, another Mexicana employee, was at the site of an apartment building.

“It had collapsed into crumbs; it was so crumpled,” she said. “We met this guy from Hollywood, and he had come to pick up his wife and his mother-in-law. His wife is an American citizen, and he had gotten immigration papers to bring his mother-in-law here, and then the quake hit. We were there when the rescuers heard the family dog barking from inside. They went to rescue (the women), and they were already dead.”

Martinez said the Hollywood man wanted to arrange a funeral, but Mexican officials wanted to haul the bodies away.

“They are not identifying people now,” Martinez said. “They are putting the bodies into mass graves. . . . The American guy was in shock, could barely talk. Then all of a sudden, he would pull himself together, and then break down.”

Oses said she saw the bodies of the mother and daughter.

‘I’ll Never Forget’

“We lied,” Oses admitted. “We told the police we were from the international press and we would make a big scandal. . . . So they said OK. There was an ambulance, and they allowed the man to go with the bodies to a funeral home. . . . Finally, he started crying: ‘I’ll never forget, never forget what you’ve done.’ ”

Mexicana sales agent Luis Hernandez of Buena Park, who was born in Mexico City, said he had been to his hometown only three weeks before the quake.

“Then I went back last Monday,” he said. “It was sad to see the city which I grew up in. . . . Avenida Juarez and Avenida Reforma destroyed, like somebody dropped a bomb.

“My grandmother lives in Platelolco, close by. It was blocked off by the Army. . . . My parents live 40 minutes outside the city, and I can’t communicate with her by phone. . . . They are kind of scared. My grandmother, Jacinta Zermeno, is 75, and we don’t know anything.”

He said he was scheduled to fly back to Mexico City on Saturday night, taking medicines, baby food, blankets, candy bars and toys. “You have to keep the kids doing something,” he said, “and they need calories.”

As for his grandmother, Hernandez said: “I will keep going back until I find something of her. I won’t leave until I know how she’s doing, how she’s faring. . . . I’m trying to think positive.”

Equipment Airlifted

Western Airlines is also airlifting equipment from Los Angeles International Airport to Mexico City, most of it donated or loaned by Los Angeles city and county agencies. Among the gear are portable generators, a gas-driven fan, a hydraulic jack, a tractor, 1,000 flashlights and 3,000 batteries.

A spokesman for City Councilman Art Snyder said it is hoped more heavy equipment can be flown in next week on an air freight Boeing 747, while lower priority heavy equipment will be sent by train.

Six Southern California Adventist hospitals have airlifted about 3,100 pounds of medical supplies valued at $20,000, with White Memorial Medical Center in Glendale coordinating the project.

While most aid from Southern California was going to Mexico City, Pasadena was directing its relief efforts toward the smaller city of Ciudad Guzman, which has about 125,000 residents about 90 miles southwest of Guadalajara.

Mireya Asturias Jones, chairman of El Centro de Accion Central, which represents Pasadena’s Latino community, headed a delegation of 10 city officials and service officers who went to Ciudad Guzman.

People-to-People Aid

She said Saturday that because Ciudad Guzman suffered fewer casualties and less damage than Mexico City, the relief effort there will concentrate on people-to-people aid, cash donations to help rebuild individual homes.

Jones, a Guatemalan by birth, worked as a translator in her native country during the summer after the earthquake disaster of 1976.

She said that from her experience in Guatemala, the people “don’t need canned asparagus shipped from Pasadena, but rice and beans purchased locally.”

She said 12 churches--"probably the only tall structures in the city"--were destroyed, but Ciudad Guzman’s six hospitals had only minor damage. Jones said she was told that 29 people died in the city, another 10 in the outlying districts.

“It is a proud and wonderful city,” she said. “I think what we will do is start a sort of adoption program. . . . It would cost $200 to $300 to rebuild an individual home.” She estimated that 600 homes were destroyed.

And, she said: “We learned a lot from Ciudad Guzman that would be useful if Pasadena were ever hit by an earthquake. . . . The togetherness, the teamwork were unbelievable.”

Jones said a news conference will be held this week to announce specific plans and goals for Pasadena’s relief effort, which she believes will take the form of a fund-raising drive.

Message Delivered

Jones delivered a message to one Southern Californian. She said she met 53-year-old Aurelia Gomez, mother of Eddie Gomez of Anaheim, at one of the relief centers.

Aurelia Gomez, who had been in Ciudad Guzman since August to celebrate her mother’s 98th birthday, pitched in as a Red Cross volunteer to help rebuild the city of her birth.

Her son said he was delighted but not surprised to get word from his mother by way of a phone call from Jones.

“I understand that she will be there another week or so,” Gomez said. “She feels a moral obligation to work with the Cruz Rojas .”