In Mexico, scenes of desolation and hope as the death toll reaches 274
The search continues for victims buried under the rubble of a fallen office building along Calle Alvaro Obregon in La Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Susana Coronel Flores, whose nephew, Adrian Moreno, is missing in a collapsed building, sheds a tear as the search continues for victims buried under the rubble along Calle Alvaro Obregon in La Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Residents stand in the street after the earthquake alarm sounded in Mexico City on Saturday morning before the shaking from a magnitude 6.1 aftershock in Oaxaca state reached the capital, causing buildings to sway.(Natacha Pisarenko / Associated Press)
Rescue teams stop their work Saturday after the earthquake alert sounded in Mexico City, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. There were no immediate reports of major new damage or casualties in the capital.(Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
Residents evacuate apartment buildings in the Tlatelolco neighborhood after an earthquake alert sounded in Mexico City on Saturday morning, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico.(AFP / Getty Images)
Leodegaria Comonfort Ramirez, 49, whose home was destroyed in the recent quake, has a fractured shoulder and now shares a home with her neighbors in Jojutla. Her daughter was killed when the second story of the building they lived in came down on her head.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Margarita Martinez, left, shown with her children, sits where her home used to stand in the Mexican town of Jojutla, Morelos.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Elena Jimenez Arizmendi, 81, sits outside her destroyed home in Jojutla with a few of her belongings packed into plastic bags.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Heróico Ayuntamiento, Jojutla’s local government office, suffered major structural damage in the recent earthquake.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteers remove rubble alongside the Mexican military, beginning the reconstruction process where a block of homes in Jojutla was destroyed by the recent quake.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Maria de Pilar Paez Castillo, 69, receives medical attention outside a tent that she sleeps in near her damaged home in Jojutla.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Clara Velazquez Camargo, 77, right, tells her son Arturo Perez she would prefer to stay in a tent at a shelter at the La Perseverancia sport complex in Jojutla. “I want to live; I am afraid to return to my son’s home,” she said. The shelter is housing 350 people.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Neighbors place a tarp over part of the street near Leodegaria Comonfort Ramirez’s home, left, which was destroyed in the recent quake in Jojutla, killing Ramirez’s daughter.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The reconstruction process begins as residents discard their personal items damaged by the recent quake in Jojutla.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A worker repairs power lines next to Heróico Ayuntamiento, Jojutla’s local government office.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A crane removes a concrete stairway from a collapsed building in the Colonia neighborhood in Mexico City.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
People pin notes and flowers to a sidewalk memorial at a park in front of one of a collapsed building in Mexico City.(Luis Perez / AFP/Getty Images)
Family members embrace as they wait for news of their relatives outside a quake-collapsed seven-story building in Mexico City’s Roma Norte neighborhood.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
Japanese rescuers take part in the search for survivors at a flattened building in Mexico City three days after a strong quake hit central Mexico.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
Soldiers and volunteers remove a car crushed by debris from a flattened building in Mexico City.(Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteer Elidia Marcos, 23, holds a sign asking for water, medicine and tools to aid victims of the earthquake in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Volunteer Fernando Gedeño, 20, carries wood to be used to support the structure of the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school on Mexico City’s south side.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Refugio Gonzalez, 85, left, is comforted by volunteer Lety Rebollar, 19, of Mexico state, in a shelter holding 460 people displaced by the earthquake at Centro Deportivo Benito Juarez sports complex in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rosalba Ramirez Vargas, center, and the prayer group “the Best Friends of Jesus” pray the rosary while anxiously waiting for news from rescue crews searching for children trapped in the rubble at Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A rescue worker listens for signs of a person trapped under the rubble of a building felled by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City’s Ciudad Jardin neighborhood.(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
The Mexican Army load ruble into dump trucks while rescue teams work at night continuing to look for people trapped underneath a collapsed six story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue teams working at night continue to look for people trapped underneath the ruble of a collapsed six story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
The Mexican Army along side civilians load debris while search and rescue continues for people in a collapsed six story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Members of the Mexican Navy look on while a search and rescue team ooks for victims under the rubble at a collapsed building where five people were found dead in Colonia Roma in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescuers work at the top of a destroyed building in Mexico City trying to rescue a man two days after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake.(Pedro Mera / Getty Images)
A rescuer from Israel, center, takes part in the search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City two days after a strong quake hit central Mexico.(YURI CORTEZ / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue services and volunteers raise their hands to ask for absolute silence during their search for victims under the debris of the school that collapsed in Mexico City.(JOSE MENDEZ / EPA / Shutterstock)
Mexico City residents scan the names of people who have been rescued and others who are still missing after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
An army of rescuers, firefighters, police, soldiers and volunteers search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City.(Mario Vazquez / AFP/Getty Images)
People who lost their homes in the earthquake rest inside a gymnasium turned in an evacuation center in Mexico City.(Jorge Dan Lopez / EPA/Shutterstock)
Rescuers search for survivors amid the rubble of a building flattened by the earthquake.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
Volunteers await news as rescue teams look for people trapped beneath the rubble of a six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue teams use a blow torch on a slab of cement while looking for people trapped in the the rubble of a collapsed residential building in Mexico City Wednesday night.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
People anxiously wait for news from rescue crews as the search continues for children trapped in the rubble of Enrique Rebsamen School in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Dairo Martinez, right, 15, looks for the name of his friend Reyna Davila, a student at Enrique Rebsamen School in Mexico City, on Sept. 20. The school collapsed in the 7.1 earthquake the day before.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A pair of heavily damaged churches are left partially standing in Jojutla, Morelos state, Mexico, following a 7.1 earthquake that killed more than 200 people.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
The sky is exposed from inside the Santiago Apostol Church, which collapsed during Tuesday’s 7.1 earthquake in the town of Atzala in Puebla state, Mexico.(Pablo Spencer / Associated Press)
The Santiago Apostol Church in Atzala, in Puebla state, suffered major damage during Tuesday’s 7.1 earthquake in Mexico.(Pablo Spencer / Associated Press)
Rescue workers search for people trapped inside a collapsed building in the Del Valle area of Mexico City.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
A survivor is pulled from the rubble from a flattened building in Mexico City.(Pedro Pardo / AFP/Getty Images)
An aerial view shows a flattened building in Mexico City. The search for survivors was continuing a day after a powerful quake hit the central part of the country.(Mario Vazquez / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers use a dog to search for survivors who may be buried under the rubble of a building flattened by a 7.1 earthquake in Mexico City.(Diana Ulloa / AFP/Getty Images)
Search and rescue teams continue to remove rubble and look for people in a collapsed six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Search and rescue teams remove rubble at a collapsed six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue workers search for children trapped inside the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City.(Carlos Cisneros / Associated Press)
Rescuers work at the Enrique Rebsamen school after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook Mexico City.(EPA/Shutterstock )
In this photo provided by Francisco Caballero Gout, shot through a window of the Torre Latina, dust rises over downtown Mexico City during a 7.1 earthquake Tuesday.(Francisco Caballero Gout / Associated Press)
Volunteers and rescue workers search for children trapped inside the Enrique Rebsamen school, collapsed by a powerful earthquake in Mexico City.(Miguel Tovar / Associated Press)
Alejandra Reynoso, left, and boyfriend Alejandro Gamez wait for news on Gamez’s sister Karen Nayeli, who is missing at a collapsed office building along Calle Alvaro Obregon in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
People look for family and friends on a list of people rescued from an office building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Search and rescue workers continue looking for people trapped in a collapsed six-story residential building in Colonia Condesa, in Mexico City.(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
A car crushed by debris from a damaged building after a quake rattled Mexico City.(ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP/Getty Images)
Rescuers, firefighters, police officers, soldiers and volunteers remove rubble and debris from a flattened building in search of survivors after a powerful quake in Mexico City.(Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images)
An injured man is pulled out of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City.(Rebecca Blackwell / Associated Press)
People try to rescue survivors from a collapsed building in Mexico City on Tuesday.(Sáshenka Gutiérrez / EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
People search for survivors in a collapsed building in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City on Tuesday.(Enric Marti / Associated Press)
A construction worker searches a building that collapsed in Mexico City.(Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press)
Rescuers and volunteers remove rubble from a collapsed building in search of survivors in Mexico City.(Yuri Cortez / AFP / Getty Images)
A car is crushed by debris from a building damaged in the 7.1 magnitude temblor.(Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)
People in Mexico City remove debris after a building collapsed in a powerful earthquake on Tuesday.(Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)
A security guard walks over debris of a collapsed building in the capital.(Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
People in Mexico City search a building that collapsed after a powerful earthquake centered southeast in neighboring Puebla state on Tuesday.(Ronaldo Schemidt / AFP/Getty Images)
Scenes of desolation and rejoicing unspooled Thursday at the sites of buildings crumbled by Mexico’s deadly earthquake, which killed at least 274 people and galvanized heroic efforts to reach those trapped.
But a parallel drama transpired as the government announced that there were no missing children in the ruins of a collapsed school — after the country was transfixed for a night and a day by reports of a 12-year-old girl feebly signaling to rescuers from under the rubble.
Outrage ensued over what many Mexicans believed was a deliberate deception.
On Thursday afternoon, the Mexican navy reported that there was no sign that any child was missing and alive in the rubble of the Enrique Rebsamen school on Mexico City’s south side, where at least 19 children and six adults had died. One more adult might still be trapped in the rubble, navy Undersecretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said at a news conference.
“All of the children are unfortunately dead,” he said, “or safe at home.”
Mexico’s larger tragedy continued to unfold as rescuers in three states, battling grinding fatigue and mountains of rubble, raced against time, keenly aware of ever-dwindling odds of finding people alive beneath the debris after Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 temblor.
The overall confirmed fatality count was expected to climb as more bodies were recovered. Rescuers at sites across the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City used search dogs and calls to the cellphones of those trapped to try to pinpoint the location of anyone who had survived two nights under the remains of damaged buildings.
By Thursday afternoon, authorities said that at least one boy or girl was believed to be alive in the wrecked building but that they were not sure of the child’s name. Then the navy’s announcement dashed any remaining hopes for small survivors.
The confusing Frida Sofia saga took another strange turn Thursday night, when a grim-faced Sarmiento went on live television and sought to explain earlier statements by the navy about the girl. He ended up confusing matters even further.
Earlier Thursday, Sarmiento had insisted that the navy never had any knowledge of a girl who was supposedly trapped in the rubble.
In his evening news conference, however, Sarmiento contradicted the earlier statement, conceding that the navy had distributed reports of a girl surviving inside the school “based on technical reports and the testimony of civilian rescue workers and of this institution.” He offered no explanation for the conflicting accounts, but apologized.
“I offer an apology to Mexicans for the information given this afternoon in which I said that the navy did not have any details about a supposed minor survivor in this tragedy,” Sarmiento, dressed in military fatigues, told reporters at an outdoor news conference.
Sarmiento repeated his earlier assertion that it was possible that someone remained alive in the rubble. But Thursday evening he did not rule out the possibility that it was a child. Mexicans and others following the matter were left perplexed.
“Nonetheless,” Sarmiento added, “the Mexican people should know that as long as the minimum possibility exists that there is someone alive, we will keep on looking with the same determination.”
Both he and a colleague, Maj. Jose Luis Vergara, denied any effort to mislead the public.
For many, the fate of one little boy or girl became a symbolic stand-in for a panorama of loss, either threatened or realized. Even for those without casualties in their circle of family and friends, widely shared news of the rescue effort at the school provided a national commonality after the quake had robbed so many of any sense of safety and normality.
Outside quake-wrecked buildings, successful rescues heartened everyone. Cheers erupted overnight at the site of a collapsed multistory office building in Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood where rescuers pulled three people alive from the rubble, witnesses said. More were believed still trapped, authorities said.
Shows of solidarity were everywhere. On Thursday morning, volunteers armed with shovels lined up near the rescue site to relieve those who had been moving rubble all night. Other volunteers handed out coffee, sandwiches and chilaquiles — a popular Mexican breakfast dish — to dust-covered rescuers.
A continual stream of cars pulled up at makeshift donation centers: ordinary people dropping off food, water, gloves, hard hats and protective face masks.
President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has declared three days of national mourning, on Thursday paid a hospital visit to some of those injured in the quake.
An elite team of disaster experts, including an urban search-and-rescue team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, landed in Mexico City to aid in relief efforts.
The U.S. Agency for International Development reported the arrival of its Disaster Assistance Response Team, along with more than 60 firefighters and five highly trained dogs.
The USAID team, requested by the Mexican government, will conduct damage assessments, search for victims and coordinate with local authorities and aid groups to bring assistance to those most affected.
As dawn broke, rescue efforts pushed ahead in neighborhoods rich and poor. Hours earlier, in Condesa, a woman’s faint voice could hardly be heard under a pile of rubble that had been her second-story apartment. Rescuers thought there could be up to four people under the collapsed ruins.
The rescuers demanded silence. One of them stuck his head down into the void, calling for anyone there to answer if possible. But it was still too loud. Generators and vehicles were turned off. Small chatter subsided.
“We need absolute silence,” the worker said. “Please.”
From a few dozen yards away, the voice sounded like a whisper. The rescuers waited. The trapped woman called to them again.
People stood still, captivated. Some of them wept. A woman broke the silence, yelling over a megaphone: “She is Lorna. She’s on the second floor.”
The woman said Lorna’s family was trying to call her. Seconds later, a phone chimed from inside the pile.
Later in the evening, a woman was pulled from the rubble along with two bodies. The woman was transported to a hospital. It was unclear whether it was Lorna.
At 5 a.m., rescuers recovered another body from the building: that of Gabriela Jaen Pimienta, 44 — found hugging her Chihuahua, also dead. She had lived on the fifth floor with her husband and daughter, who both survived the earthquake, said relatives who had kept a day-and-night vigil.
In parts of the city, life appeared to be returning to normal Thursday. People stood in front of their homes, sweeping away leaves that had fallen in the overnight rainstorm. Mexico City’s tamale vendors were back on the streets, hawking their wares from the backs of bicycles.
But neighborhoods more affected by the quake looked like war zones. Large army trucks lined a popular thoroughfare. Soldiers guarded a park where rescue efforts were being coordinated.
Many rescuers had worked through the night. The lucky ones had slept a little in soggy tents assembled in the park.
Times staff writers McDonnell, Castillo and Linthicum reported from Mexico City and King from Washington. Staff writer W.J. Hennigan in Washington contributed to this report.
10:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments by Angel Enrique Sarmiento on Thursday night concerning “Frida Sofia.”
3:35 p.m.: This article was updated with the new death toll.
1:45 p.m.: This article was updated with Mexican navy saying no sign of any children missing at school.
11:50 a.m.: This article was updated with conflicting information about school rescue, details from other rescue sites and the president’s visit to a hospital.
10:40 a.m.: This article was updated with more reaction to rescue efforts.
9:30 a.m.: This article was updated with a revised death toll, and details from the scene at a collapsed school.
8 a.m.: This article was updated with new details about the effort to rescue a woman named Lorna. It is now unclear whether a woman pulled from the rubble is Lorna.
This article was originally published at 7:10 a.m.
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