The clock atop Guadalupe Chapel stopped at 7:19 Thursday morning, when the first of four earthquakes in the past 48 hours struck, turning the streets of this city into a theater of fear.
That first giant upheaval killed more than 30 persons, injured 360 and left thousands homeless. The third one came last night as the sun set over volcanic mountains known as Fire and Snow. It was not as lethal as the first, but it provoked even more hysteria among the populace. The second and fourth were smaller aftershocks.
Last night it seemed that the entire city was out in the dark, narrow streets, with bands of 10 and 15 persons huddled around bonfires, children wrapped in blankets sleeping on the curbs, the avenues resounding with loudspeaker alerts from the state police, and everyone asking the questions: "How is your house? Will it happen again?"
No city is prepared for earthquakes, not even Ciudad Guzman, where the ground trembles every fall and has since at least 1906, when the San Jose Cathedral fell and 2,000 persons died. The tower on the new cathedral, constructed in 1908, collapsed this time, crumbling into the street at the south end of the main square. When Bishop Serafin Elizalde saw it happen from his house six blocks away, he said: "This pain is too deep. I cannot express it, Oh, God."
The pain was in all sections of the city of 80,000, a provincial hub of corn and dairy products in central Mexico's state of Jalisco.
On the east side of the city, up the mud streets of Montana Oriente, where the poor people live, hundreds of adobe houses were destroyed, reduced to chunks of green and red brick, raw boards and poles, mud, with mattresses, refrigerators and desks partially showing under the debris. The city plans to tear down the entire neighborhood and move 5,000 persons into the valley for several months until their homes can be rebuilt.
Elena Cortes lost her house. Last night she sat on Rayon Street, in the mist high above the city, surrounded by her 10 children: Patricia, Francisco, Maria-Teresa, Javier, Alfredo, Orlando, Hortensia, Ricardo, David, Isaac, Maria Magdalen, Octavia and 4-month-old Fatima.
"The old run out with the young," she said. "We know earthquakes. But none like this."
At the nearby primary school, Fray Pedro de Gante, teachers and soldiers in the Mexican Army served a dinner of milk, bread and bean soup to scores of peasants. The people were transported there by young men, volunteers who roamed the city in light trucks looking for people in need.
"The people don't want to leave their homes," said teacher Jorge Vega Alonzo. "They are afraid something will happen. They sit out in the street and watch their belongings all night. But we have doctors here, and food, and we can help. The pain in this colony is deep. We've seen four die today. Many are hysterical, especially when it shook again at night."
Down the mountain, along a street known as Primero de Mayo, troops guarded the house of Mayor Miguel Morales Torres. From the outside his house looked elegant. Inside it is destroyed. Bricks and mud cover the hallways and dining room where a long mahogany cabinet stands oddly unharmed, even its fine china in place. The mayor and his family escaped.
But death came across the street at House 261. A little boy died there, suffocated under a collapsed wall.
Ten blocks away at City Hall, a woman typed out the names of the dead. The list grew as word filtered back from the Social Security Hospital, where many of the seriously injured were taken, and from the hospital of Guadalajara, 90 miles to the north. All night long ambulances and small planes took more of the injured to the big city.
Rosio Elizondo de Boils, who runs a travel agency in the center of town and knows everyone, it seems, spent last night moving from one neighborhood to another to tell people not to be afraid and where they could go for assistance. From the Montana Oriente she drove west to the flatlands neighborhood known as Ejidal, where farmers live.
Their houses still stood, but the people were afraid, so hundreds of them went over to a new market and slept in the open stalls. The state police wanted to move them because it was not an official relief center. But Rosio talked to the police, and the farmers and their wives and children, their dogs and their white roosters.
On the south side, in a neighborhood known as Foviste, where government bureaucrats live, many, perhaps 10, died in the earthquake Thursday. The homeless gathered in a field last night, dozens of them around a large fire, singing to a homemade statue of St. Peter.
More people of Ciudad Guzman slept in the main square, on the benches and under the statues. At dawn the Army came out, and the people moved along the streets, many of them heading to the Institute of Social Security, where they got a breakfast of eggs, bread and ham. None of those treating them are getting paid. The doctors, nurses, cafeteria workers and social workers are all volunteers. The food was donated by the state and the Catholic church.
Rosa Marta Tovar Farias, director of social services, said she never saw such hysteria as there was last night when the third quake hit. "They remembered the first one, and they were too scared," she said. "People couldn't see. A man was looking for his family, and they were right next to him, and he couldn't see them. People were having dinner here when it happened last night. No one finished. The children started crying. It was bad."
At the main hospital rested Rita Nunez, 44, her back broken. She had watched as the walls started to collapse on her young daughter in their adobe house south of the city. "I jumped on her and covered her with my body," she said. "The wall came down on me." Her face showed the pain of an entire city.