MEXICO CITY — Police, firefighters and ordinary Mexicans, some using only bare hands, found a young girl alive Wednesday under the rubble of a school that collapsed in a powerful earthquake that has leveled numerous buildings and killed 225 people, according to the Mexican media.
The magnitude-7.1 earthquake rocked the capital and surrounding area Tuesday, 32 years to the day after a major quake devastated the capital city in 1985.
A number of the fatalities came at two schools, including 25 dead at the Enrique Rebsamen school. All but four of the dead were children, according to the federal Education Department.
But the tragic site also brought a sign of hope Wednesday that some children may have survived beneath the pancaked structure.
Rescuers spotted a young girl buried in the rubble, and shouted at her to move her hand if she could hear them. She did. A search dog sent into the debris confirmed she was alive, according to Mexican media.
Authorities asked the public to bring lamps and mirrors to help in the search for more possible survivors.
At least 30 children and eight adults were still missing at the school, which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto visited Tuesday, Animal Politico reports.
Teams on the scene in southern Mexico City used whatever means available — including bare hands — to claw through the rubble all night. With barely room to move, in an intensely claustrophobic situation, Pedro Serrano, 29, a doctor, managed to make it into a collapsed classroom only to find all occupants dead.
“We dug holes, then crawled in on our bellies,” Serrano told the Associated Press.
“We managed to get into a collapsed classroom. We saw some chairs and wooden tables. The next thing we saw was a leg, and then we started to move rubble and we found a girl and two adults — a woman and a man.”
A second school, the Tecnológico de Monterrey campus in Mexico City, was also the scene of numerous fatalities. Five people were killed and 40 injured at the school, which is part of a chain of private universities that educates the children of many of the country's elites.
The school said in a statement that searchers had also worked all night looking for possible survivors.
The earthquake was the second to strike in 12 days. The earlier temblor hit southern Mexico, shaking the capital. Mexico's civil defense chief lowered the death toll to 217 from 248 early Wednesday.
Luis Felipe Puente, head of Mexico’s national Civil Defense Agency, tweeted that most of the fatalities occurred in Mexico City, Morelos state and Puebla, with other deaths reported in the State of Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca.
Schools were closed in the city Wednesday, but the capital's massive subway system and network of buses were scheduled to operate normally. The Mexico City government opened 14 shelters for those whose homes were damaged.
As the quake hit Tuesday, residents throughout the city spilled out of buildings. Many stayed huddled in the streets until authorities inspected their buildings. Sirens blared throughout the afternoon. Federal police brought in sniffer dogs to find victims.
Many of those in the streets said the force of the quake was as strong as the 1985 earthquake, which killed an estimated 9,500 people, destroyed about 100,000 homes and reduced parts of the city to rubble. That quake, a stronger magnitude-8.1, was only one of several over the past few decades to hit Mexico, one of the most seismically active regions in the world.
“This was the same as 1985. It shook bad,” said Gustavo de la Cruz, a parking lot attendant. He spotted a light fixture falling from a pole but said the damage appeared a less severe than the last time. “That 1985 earthquake wrecked Mexico City,” he said.
Others saw the damage first-hand. “There was this explosion,” said Ubaldo Juárez, a barber, who was riding his bike through the trendy, but hard-hit Condesa neighborhood. “I saw this cloud of dust, like something out of a movie.”
The earlier Sept. 7 earthquake, which killed at least 90 after hitting several states along Mexico's Pacific Coast, triggered an alarm system in Mexico City — quakes often occur far from the capital, which offers a window of 45 seconds to one minute to evacuate buildings. That didn’t occur this time. The quake's epicenter was near the town of Raboso, about 76 miles southeast of Mexico City, the U.S. Geological Surveysaid.
“Normally you have a warning. But this just struck,” said Juárez, who got down on his hands and knees to brace himself.
The earthquake came ironically on the same day when Mexican civil protection officials conduct earthquake drills — and office workers, students and apartment dwellers practice abandoning their buildings. A drill occurred barely two hours before the Tuesday quake hit. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 places in the capital alone.