MEXICO CITY – The number of confirmed deaths as a result of the magnitude-7.1 earthquake that struck central Mexico stands at 230, authorities said Wednesday.
People affected by Tuesday’s temblor are already receiving medical assistance and material support, President Enrique Peña Nieto said during a visit to the hardest-hit municipality.
“Let us remain calm. The important thing today is that many of you have been delivered to safety,” he said Wednesday in Jojutla, Morelos state.
The government’s priority is providing “immediate attention” to those who need it, but officials are ready to begin a detailed survey of the damage in preparation for providing aid to people who lost their homes, he said.
“I am here to make a commitment of support from the government,” Peña Nieto said.
Non-stop rescue efforts continued Wednesday to locate survivors amid the rubble of buildings toppled by the quake.
Three days of national mourning have been declared, but the mood on the street is less of sorrow than of determination to find survivors, bury the dead and quickly begin the task of rebuilding after the powerful temblor, which struck central Mexico on the 32-year anniversary of the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that caused 20,000 deaths.
At least 39 buildings were completely destroyed in Mexico City, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said.
Thirty other buildings in the capital sustained serious damage, while 209 schools were affected and at least 500 of them need to be inspected after the earthquake, whose epicenter was located in Morelos at a spot 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Mexico City.
Amid the search for potential survivors, a thick silence reigns whenever someone hears a sound or when a rescue dog shows indication that a person might be buried amid the wreckage of a building.
“A girl named Frida communicated via WhatsApp with her mother last night and told her where she was so they could find her” under the rubble, volunteer Maria Elena Villaseñor told EFE Wednesday from Enrique Rebsamen School.
Tragedy struck at that educational facility on the capital’s south side, where 32 students and five adults are already confirmed to have perished and the death toll is expected to rise further.
A total of 14 survivors have been found at the school, while a score of people are estimated to be trapped under the rubble, according to official figures.
The rescue effort is focused mainly on the capital because the buildings in nearby states are generally shorter and were housing fewer people at the time of the earthquake.
In fact, EFE confirmed that rescuers in Puebla had nearly completed their work at around midnight Tuesday.
No individuals are officially reported missing under the rubble, although tragedy struck in different parts of the state, most notably at a church that collapsed during a baptism ceremony and killed 11 people, including four minors.
The rescue phase also has concluded in Morelos, according to Gov. Graco Ramirez, who has ordered five days of mourning and said that 15 people had been hospitalized with serious injuries.
Amid the still-unfolding tragedy, thousands of people have taken to the streets in displays of altruism, buying food, water and other basic items and helping distribute them to those affected by the earthquake and rescue teams or forming human chains to help remove the rubble of collapsed buildings.
But the massive relief effort also has prompted fears that the flow of aid to the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the powerful Sept. 7 earthquake, which was centered off Mexico’s southern coast and battered a less heavily populated area, will immediately evaporate.
Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio, however, said in a television interview that no troops would be withdrawn from stricken areas in southern Mexico and that a contingent of 24,000 federal personnel, including members of the army and navy, would remain in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.
“We’ve still got an emergency there,” he said of the fallout from that magnitude-8.2 earthquake, the most powerful to strike Mexico in 85 years.