Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

Mexican Solidarity in Times of Crises

Once again, the tragedy showed the best in Mexicans. Only minutes after the earthquake, civilians started mobilizing to make sure every point in the city with collapsed constructions had help.

Sep 26, 2022

On Sept. 19, an earthquake of magnitude 7.7, with an epicenter in Michoacán, shaked the city. As of today, two deaths and 10 injuries have been reported in Mexico City. One woman died by falling from the stairs when the alarm sounded and one man died from a heart attack. In addition, more than 150 residential buildings suffered structural damages in Colima and Michoacán.
At 1 a.m on Sep. 22, a new aftershock of magnitude 6.9 occurred, with an epicenter in Michoacán, leaving no deaths or injuries, only minor damages to one building in Uruapan, Michoacán, and some landslides in Guerrero. As of 8:00 a.m. on Sep. 25, 2475 aftershocks were registered.
Mexico is a country with a high telluric activity due to its geographical location in the Pacific Ring of Fire, one of the most active seismic zones resulting from the movement of four tectonic plates: North American, Cocos, Rivera and Pacific. Intensity and magnitude are two important terms when discussing seismology. Intensity is the value measured in a specific location, written with Roman numerals using the Mercalli scale, while magnitude refers to the amount of energy released during the earthquake. It is a unique value measured using the Richter scale.
There are two main earthquakes in the collective memory of Mexicans: one in 1985 and the other in 2017. At 7:19 a.m. CDT of Sept. 1, 1985, Mexico woke up with the most devastating earthquake in the country's modern history. An earthquake of magnitude 8.1 degrees in the Richter scale, with epicenter in the Pacific Ocean, shook the south, occident and center of the country. Mexico City was one of the areas most affected by the earthquake. Around 700 buildings collapsed during the earthquake and many sustained damages.
As of today, the exact number of victims remains unknown, but the official number of deaths is around 3000, although the Mexican Red Cross estimates more than 10, 000 deaths.
The government ordered people to stay at home and wait for further indications, however, the earthquake caused one of the biggest mobilizations in the country, and Mexicans went outside to help. Civilians used the radio as a way of communicating, indicating which materials and places needed volunteers to help rescue people from the debris. The catastrophe united Mexicans, creating solidarity between the city and the people.
This unfortunate event led to the creation of rescue associations such as the Topos as well as a culture of civil protection not only in response to telluric activity, but to any kind of natural disaster.
Photo by Raphael GAILLARDE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images. Rescuers excavating the debris of Hospital Juarez after the earthquake, Mexico City, September 24, 1985.
After the 1985 earthquake, the Mexican government established regulations such as overseeing construction to ensure the capacity of newly created buildings to resist big telluric movements. Moreover, earthquake drills take place at least once every year in schools, public building and entreprises, and government offices must train staff on civil protection. In addition to this, in 1991, the government also implemented a system called Alerta Sismica (Seismic Alert) to study the telluric activity in the Pacific, with sensors that detect superficial telluric movements with a magnitude higher than five points on the Richer scale. This system emits an alarm that gives people in the capital 50 seconds to prepare before the movement reaches the city.
Although many improvements were made after the earthquake in 1985, the tragic episode still lives in the collective memory of those who had to live it. 32 years later, this new tragedy reminds us of the long way we still have to go. However, it shows us that while Mexicans can be very divided when it comes to soccer teams or politics, we can be solidaires when it matters.
On Sept. 19, 2017 at 1:14 p.m., Mexico experienced an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 in the Richter scale with epicenter in Puebla, only 120 km away from Mexico City, making it the most affected city along with the states of Morelos, Puebla, Estado de México, Guerrero, Oaxaca y Tlaxcala. Only two hours earlier, civilians participated in the macro simulacro — the general earthquake drill happening every Sept. 19 at the same time in every point of Mexico City — in commemoration of the 1985 earthquake. 38 buildings collapsed in the capital and the official death toll reached 228.
Once again, the tragedy showed the best in Mexicans. Only minutes after the earthquake, civilians started mobilizing to make sure every point in the city with collapsed constructions had help. The main channel of communication this time was social media, where people started sharing information about what was needed in which parts of the city, for example shovels, excavators and lanterns.
Everyone helped in the best way they could: young people and adults formed human chains to search for survivors, while people started arriving with water and food for all volunteers in each point of the city, organized collection centers and donated medicines and essentials. The city also stayed silent whenever rescatists asked for silence hoping to hear from people in the debris.
Moreover, professionals offered their services to those affected by the earthquake, such as free psychotherapy, while others offered their houses to those who didn't have a place to stay. The capital Metro became free of cost for people to move around the city and offer help.
Photo via Mexico City, Earthquake of September 19th, 2017.
The current earthquake is the third earthquake happening on the same day, with a magnitude higher than 7 in the Richter Scale, and although the government and experts have said that it is impossible to predict earthquakes, many fear the date of Sept. 19.
As someone who lived through one of these major catastrophes, hearing people having to reject help because it was overabundant was an indescribable feeling. Listening to strangers forcing volunteers to go home and rest, seeing strangers hugging volunteers who have spent hours trying to find survivors, even just having a friendly hand to hold after knowing that it was too late for some is something that I will carry with me forever. Thank you to all those anonymous heroes that offered their work, houses, tools and resources to help those in need.
Scarlette Jimenez is News Editor. Email her at
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