MEXICO CITY – The death toll from this week’s magnitude-7.1 earthquake in central Mexico has climbed to 273, while more than 100 people are still missing, the government said on Thursday.
The capital accounted for 137 of the fatalities and 13 others were from the surrounding state of Mexico.
Morelos state, where the quake’s epicenter was, suffered 73 deaths, followed by neighboring Puebla with 43, while seven other people perished in the southern states of Guerrero and Oaxaca, according to the latest bulletin.
The search will not end until people who very likely are trapped under the rubble of different buildings and structures have been located and rescued, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio said, adding that rain was complicating that effort.
He said that once the emergency phase is over, a house-by-house census will be conducted to determine the full extent of the damage from Tuesday’s quake.
Clean-up crews then will proceed to remove all the wreckage, a task that will take weeks because the temblor produced thousands of tons of rubble. Once that work is complete, the reconstruction phase will begin.
“The important thing at this time is to ensure people’s safety,” Osorio said, referring to the large number of severely damaged buildings in Mexico City and nearby states.
A spokesman for Mexico’s Navy Secretariat and supervisor of rescue efforts at the Enrique Rebsamen school, Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, told Milenio Television late Wednesday that rescuers had established contact with a girl identified as Frida Sofia and were very close to reaching her location and bringing her to safety.
He said that rescuers were not able to see the student but that infrared and acoustic sensors and the girl’s own voice were guiding them to her.
But on Thursday afternoon the Navy Secretariat denied that a minor by that name exists and said no students were buried under the collapsed school’s rubble.
It did say, however, that there were indications that an adult might still be trapped at that site.
In a brief message to dozens of reporters at that school on the capital’s south side, Deputy Navy Secretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said the institutions working at the site were certain there was no girl named Frida Sofia.
He said the Education and Defense secretariats, the Mexico City borough of Tlalpan – where Colegio Enrique Rebsamen is located – and the Navy Secretariat had worked with school officials to account for all of the students.
“We’re sure that all of the children either died, are in the hospital or are safe in their homes,” Sarmiento said.
Besides Vergara, Education Secretary Aurelio Nuño also had referred to “Frida” by name, saying on Wednesday that her parents were not in the vicinity of the school.
Eleven students were rescued at the school and 19 others were killed, according to Sarmiento, who said six adults, including a teacher whose body was removed from the rubble Thursday morning, also perished in the earthquake.
Referring to signs that a person may still be alive under the wreckage of one of the school’s buildings, the deputy navy secretary said there was a photo of a trail of blood that appeared to indicate that individual had dragged himself or herself along the ground.