More quakes rattle Mexico

BY SUSAN KIM | WASHINGTON | June 23, 1999


WASHINGTON (June 23, 1999) -- As several U.S. emergency response

teams were onsite with Mexican officials to assess

damages from an earthquake last week that killed 19,

another quake shook western and central Mexico Monday

afternoon.

The second quake, which measured 5.7 on the Richter

scale, damaged 700 homes, and generated an aftershock

that evening which caused no additional damage. On edge

from last week's earthquake -- and also remembering a

horrific 1985 earthquake in Mexico that killed 10,000 --

people's nerves are frayed as they continue to respond.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) sent a

three-person assessment team to Mexico City Monday. "The

team reports that people's reactions are ranging from

concerned to unnerved to frantic," said UMCOR

spokesperson Wendy Whiteside. "We're still waiting to

hear official damage assessment reports."

She added that local Mexican partners met the UMCOR team

in Mexico City, at about the time of the second

quake.

Mexico, already a popular choice for mission trips among

local ecumenical church groups, could have even greater

need for rebuilding and repairing homes. One member of

UMCOR's team is a volunteer coordinator who, as damages

are assessed, will provide information on the emerging

need for volunteers.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency and Catholic

Relief Services (CRS) are also assessing damages and

getting an accurate gauge of need before engaging a

specific response. "Right now we are trying to ensure

that immediate priorities are met -- and we feel they are

being met -- but we are also in the process of getting the

figures and face-to-face personal reports that will

dictate our response," said CRS spokesperson Kerry

Hodges. She added that response will be considered

"early-stage" as first-hand accounts from local churches

continue to filter in.

Often damage assessment takes longer for earthquake

response than for other disasters, since underlying

structural damage isn't immediately visible. "The issue

of managing personal safety is one of the primary

differences in earthquake response," said Donna Derr,

acting director for the emergency response committee of

Church World Service.

After an earthquake, people may want to return to homes

that had some damage but were not destroyed. But they

need to beware of aftershocks, and shouldn't return

"until there has been some effort to ascertain the

structural integrity of the remaining building," she

added.

Teams from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)

also joined Mexican structural and civil engineers to

help assess damages, although the Mexican government has

not officially called for international assistance, said

PAHO spokesperson Patricia Bitner.

"There have been damages to health facilities in addition

to homes and business structures," she said. "But the

Mexican government has an excellent capacity to assess

damages to both buildings and to the water and sanitation

infrastructure."

Initial damage assessments usually take 24 hours, but a

detailed structural analysis, especially in the wake of a

second earthquake and aftershock, will take longer, she

added.

Early assessments show that, in the rural and largely

impoverished state of Guerrero, about 140 miles northwest

of Acapulco, where many homes are made of adobe, the

quake damaged some 700 homes, cracking walls and

collapsing roofs. The quake also damaged the newly

constructed city hall, a hospital, a church and a museum.

Guerrero is also about 165 miles from Mexico City, where

people felt the tremors.

Last week's quake measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and

killed 19 people in the state of Puebla, which has been

declared a disaster area by the Mexican government. Power

and telephone service were knocked out, and Army troops,

firefighters and civil emergency personnel have conducted

initial clean-up in that area. Now similar teams are

working in Guerrero.

In Puebla, population 1.2 million, 11 people died, about

120 buildings and 70 homes were leveled, and so far,

1,500 have been reported with minor damage. Death and

damage tolls could rise as emergency workers visit

smaller isolated towns.

Puebla, an industrial town with a picturesque historic

district known as the City of Tiles, is located about 55

miles east of Mexico City. The states of Morelos, Oaxaca,

and Veracruz also reported deaths and damages. Five

Catholic and two Methodist churches sustained heavy

damage, and shattered glass and rubble everywhere has

caused traffic tie-ups and hazardous travel.

Response officials are predicting that mental health

needs could be significant, especially since many

Mexicans vividly remember the terrifying 1985 earthquake

that killed 10,000 people. Then -- and this week on a

smaller scale -- initial "search and rescue" often meant

neighbors finding neighbors. The trauma of finding loved

ones -- even if they are still alive -- has a lasting

effect on survivors.

In addition, response takes longer if local

infrastructure leads to unusable churches, public

buildings and roads, frustrating to survivors and

response workers alike. The year after an earthquake,

suicide rates often rise 63 percent, according to

research by the International Critical Incident Stress

Foundation.

Posted June 23, 1999


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