Wearing a hard hat, Rodrigo Díaz Mejía climbs on top of a crushed car to enter an apartment that was left exposed after the September 19 earthquake. Inside, he finds the portrait of two boys that is hanging from a cracked wall. He puts it under his arm to take it to the family.
Díaz Mejía, an automotive mechanic, has spent several weeks passing through broken walls and over cracked floors to get inside crumbled homes at the residential development Tokio 517 in the center of Mexico City, attempting to recover photographs, clothing and documents for the families that were forced to flee. But now, he says, persistent rain and obstacles could force him to give up.
Tempting fate among the ruins has become more dangerous, Díaz Mejía says, pointing at three buildings in the Portales zone, two of which collapsed.
One month after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that killed 228 in the capital, thousands of residents haven’t been able to return to their dwellings. Many say that despite the promises made, they have yet to receive any kind of financial aid.
Hundreds of buildings had to be evacuated after the quake, and the demolition of those that are impossible to rebuild is just starting. Workers have to remove all materials that could pose a public safety threat before the task of demolishing the structures in the middle of inhabited neighborhoods can start.
Those that were forced to leave those structures have been staying with relatives, in hotels or in tents on the streets. The government has announced loans at low interest rates so that people can repair their homes or look for new ones, but that process will surely be a slow one.
Maria Luisa Campuzano Fernández has been staying in a hotel since the earthquake damaged the building she had been living in for the past 15 years.
Inspectors told her the building was structurally sound, but the walls had been damaged. The cause was an adjoining building that had been damaged in the 1985 earthquake and collapsed onto her own.
The woman made a note of the aid the government pledged but she hasn’t received anything.
In the building’s lobby, where the roof is propped up with wooden beams, Campuzano says that “no money has arrived and here we are, trembling with fear because each apartment is damaged severely.”
Ana María Rodríguez Maya, a career architect, was working in her apartment when the earthquake struck. She ran toward the stairs but felt the building crumbling under her feet. She managed to reach the roof, and from there she made it to the roof of an adjoining building.
Eight people were trapped inside. Their screams could be heard in the middle of the dust cloud, alerting neighbors who went to their rescue with shovels, picks and ladders until all were saved.
Rodríguez said uncertainty remains among her neighbors. None has received any financial aid save for a 3,000-peso check (about US $150) given to a family of four so they had somewhere to stay. She, her children, her nephew, the two dogs and the cat are scattered over the entire city in the homes of friends and relatives.
Her children returned to the building and filmed the ruins but their mother didn’t want to see the remains of what had been her home for 20 years, and which she had recently renovated.
With her eyes full of tears, she said she preferred to remember it the way it was.