Feature: Year after powerful Mexico City quake, homeless await rebuilding efforts

Source: Xinhua| 2018-09-19 17:02:49|Editor: Xiang Bo
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by Luis Brito

MEXICO CITY, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Inside a cavernous tent set up in the middle of the street, Petra Puebla doles out breakfast to fellow victims of the powerful earthquake that toppled buildings across Mexico City a year ago.

Like them, she found herself on the streets after the 7.1-magnitude temblor destroyed her apartment complex. Some 369 people were killed by the quake, most trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

For months, the 65-year-old slept on a cot in a small tent, using a gas station bathroom and showering at a nearby gym.

"I was very depressed because it feels awful to see that you have nothing, that all of your objectives have crumbled," she told Xinhua.

Puebla is one of hundreds of former residents of a 10-building apartment block known as the "Tlalpan multi-family" residential complex, a well-known landmark in the south of the city that was built in 1957.

Though only Puebla's building collapsed completely, killing nine people, the others were so badly damaged that the government ordered the 500 families to evacuate.

Residents have since been awaiting the reconstruction of their apartments. Work only began in July after they protested to pressure authorities into getting the effort underway. The project could take up to 14 months, officials said.

"God give me the strength to live long enough to return to my apartment and begin to work again, because money is running out," Puebla said.

Most of her neighbors have gone to live with relatives or are renting in other parts of the city, but Puebla and around 20 neighbours have been living in a park since the earthquake.

They no longer sleep in tents now, thanks to an organization of students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) who built most of them simple shelters, bathrooms and showers made of wood.

In her small temporary home, Puebla has a bed and a mini fridge that someone gave her. The only items she was able to recover from her destroyed apartment was a folder with official documents, a photograph and a painting.

Three times a day, she volunteers at the makeshift soup kitchen set up outside her former home, with the city supplying the foodstuffs.

The earthquake, which was felt across five central states, knocked down another 38 buildings around the capital, and damaged hundreds more.

According to the city government's Reconstruction Commission, as of August, officials had demolished 62 condemned buildings, started to tear down another four, and had a further 12 demolitions planned.

But perhaps the worst impact of the earthquake isn't so easy to see.

According to a recent survey by the local Citizen Council, 54 percent of capital residents suffer from varying degrees of psychological trauma and live in fear of another earthquake.

In a grim coincidence, last year's quake occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the devastating 1985 earthquake estimated to have claimed at least 10,000 lives.

In fact, on that day, the city's earthquake alarm had gone off earlier in the day as part of a commemorative emergency drill. When the alarm went off again, this time due to the actual quake, many people were stunned.

Like Puebla, Roberto Zarate, another pensioner and former Tlalpan block resident, sleeps in the park.

"Out of need, because rents are too expensive," said the 85-year-old, who walks with the help of a cane.

Besides, all of his furniture and other belongings are being kept in storage, for which he has to pay 3,000 pesos (around 159 U.S. dollars) a month. The only items he has with him are a crucifix and a photo of his young father.

Zarate struggles with the exposure to the weather, especially with the city's rainy season bringing daily downpours and colder temperatures, but he said he isn't afraid of sleeping under a tent.

He also holds out hope of one day returning to his apartment.

"One day, I'll return," he said.