JUCHITAN DE ZARAGOZA, Mexico – A thick and haunting silence, a mixture of mourning, post-traumatic stress and uncertainty, reigns over this southern Mexican indigenous city, which was hardest hit by the country’s most powerful earthquake since 1932.
“It’s very sad ... and it’s perhaps the most catastrophic event Juchitan has had. (The city) is destroyed and wherever we walk there’s a friend or neighbor who lost their home. It’s very sad to know wherever you go Juchitan is in ruins,” Edgar Mario told EFE.
He was one of the local residents who was out inspecting the damage on Friday night – 24 hours after the magnitude-8.2 temblor struck just off Mexico’s southern Pacific coast – as army, navy and Civil Protection personnel and voluntary firefighters were searching for victims and removing rubble from the city-hall building.
That once-distinguished structure in this city of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in the southern state of Oaxaca, is now a sad symbol of the earthquake’s devastating impact.
Officials say the quake caused 36 fatalities in Juchitan, most of whom are still buried under the rubble, damaged 7,000 homes and left thousands of people homeless and forced to sleep outside in the elements.
More than half of the total deaths – 61 – caused by the powerful earthquake occurred in that city of around 75,000 people.
The most affected area was the center of the city, where electricity remained intermittent and water service has not yet been restored.
Those inconveniences are of little concern, however, for local residents, who have been sitting outside their homes or at an open-air shelter set up by local authorities and are extremely concerned about the frequent, powerful aftershocks that continue to be felt in the city.
Nearly all commercial establishments are closed both in Juchitan and in the neighboring municipalities of Salina Cruz and Tehuantepec.
Fortunately, not all of Oaxaca’s Pacific coast was as hard-hit by the earthquake, which had an impact in more than 10 states nationwide and was felt by up to 50 million people.
Huatulco and the majority of the 200-kilometer (124-mile) stretch of highway between that tourist development and Juchitan was in perfect condition.
Landslides had occurred near Juchitan, sending large rocks onto the road and blocking the flow of trucks and buses.
But the cement, wood and aluminum buildings and homes on the side of the highway appeared to have suffered little damage.
“Thank God it was just nerves and fear, and nothing else,” said Mario Luis, a taxi driver in Huatulco who on Saturday changed his normal route to take journalists to Juchitan, an involuntary protagonist of the fearsome earthquake.