Hey everybody… listen up! Rich, a blogger colleague is calling our attention to an extremely important cause. In the wake of Friday’s massive 8.8 earthquake, we have the opportunity to help send Los Topos – the Mole Men – to Japan. There, they’ll join other Mexican and international rescue teams after.
Many readers will not be familiar with this extraordinary group of men and women who appeared spontaneously after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City. It has been more than 25 years, but I remember those tragic days as though they happened yesterday…
At 7:20 am on Thursday September 19th, 1985 I had the TV news program Hoy Mismo turned on. But something seemed to be wrong with the screen – the enormous light fixture above the newscasters was swinging wildly. María Victoria Llamas, Lourdes Guerrero and Juan Dosal, the three anchor were whispering urgently to each other…
The last image I saw was the obviously terrified Lourdes Guerrero improvising… “It seems that we are experiencing tremors, but please don’t be frightened because we think that it will be just a small quake.”
We soon learned the transmission ended because a nearby ten story building had doubled over and crashed into a section of Televisa’s studios. News quickly spreads that the quake measured 8.1 on the Richter scale.
As they seemed to do during every crisis, the government ordered a news blackout. But the magnitude of the disaster was so great; the majority of the media, including Televisa and TV journalists like the now famous, Lourdes Guerrero, disobeyed the edict. She appeared non-stop on Channel 2, a reassuring, comforting, consoling presence… The authorities did not address the situation at all for thirty-nine hours after the event.
When the they finally gave estimates of the number of casualties, they vacillated between seven thousand and thirty-five thousand people. Consequently, most of the populace believed that the true numbers could be as high as one hundred thousand.
Eighty percent of the earthquake damage was confined to four of the city’s neighborhoods and nearly all the buildings that collapsed were located in a zone that included Tlatelolco. Once again, a tragedy of unfathomable magnitude had hit the largest housing complex of the city. Two apartment complexes, the Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco Tlatelolco and the Multifamiliar Juárez along with another thirteen story building called Nuevo León, completely collapsed. In other edifices, terrified people, trying to escape, jumped from high windows to their death. Still more people became trapped in their stairwells, elevators and apartments without any way to contact the outside world. Lines of fifty to a hundred men passed rubble by hand and with buckets, trying to reach victims.
In the days after the quake, the military and police evacuated unsafe buildings and thousands had to sleep on the streets.
The area most severely damaged by the earthquake also had the highest concentration of hospitals. Patients were evacuated from the damaged medical facilities. Many were critically ill. In just four hours, one thousand, nine hundred patients were successfully moved without any deaths. Despite the loss of five thousand hospital beds, there was never a shortage of space for the injured because the public and private medical facilities completely cooperated during the crisis.
The first day, more than four thousand people were rescued alive from the rubble. Heavy machinery was not used at the site until five days after the earthquake. No one wanted to cause any cave-ins that might bury survivors. An amazing number were rescued up until ten days after the event. Most of the injured had contusions and suffered from dehydration.
After fifteen days had elapsed, only corpses were recovered, although one miraculous event was the unearthing of a man, still alive after more than a month buried under five stories of debris.
There was tremendous solidarity among the citizens of Mexico City. There were countless acts of heroism…La Brigada de Topos de Tlatelolco – The Mole Brigade of Tlatelolco was a group of young people who spontaneously volunteered to risk their lives, crawling into collapsed buildings to look for survivors. They had no equipment, training or knowledge of rescue tactics but they were instrumental in saving countless lives.
By far the most moving story to come after the earthquake was the Topos live rescue of nearly all the newborns in the nursery of one of the city’s largest public hospitals. They survived without nourishment, water, warmth or human contact for seven days.
Interviewed by the press, one of the Topos explained how they had been walking silently through the hospital wreckage when one of them heard a faint whimper. Immediately the entire group began digging – some with their bare hands. No one who was present or who watched the coverage of the rescue on TV will ever forget the sight of the scrappy, scrawny teenagers pulling baby after baby from the rubble…They became known as the “Miracle Babies of Hospital Juárez.” And the Topos became national heroes.
If you can help, with a little or a lot, you can make Direct Deposits within Mexico to:
Cuenta Santander: 92-00070929-4
Sucursal: 0479 San Fernando. Referencia: Brigada de Rescate Topos Tlaltelolco, A.C. CLABE: 014180920007092942