MEXICO CITY — On one of Mexico City's trendiest streets, lined with art galleries, cafes and gourmet restaurants, taco vendor Luis Miguel Osorio and his wife and daughter worked rapidly Wednesday to serve food to the victims, volunteers and emergency workers crowded around a nearby apartment building that collapsed during Mexico's deadliest earthquake in 32 years.
The site remained one of several crisis points around the capital as authorities and volunteers worked to locate the missing and rescue those still trapped beneath rubble a day after the temblor. Authorities have reported a death toll of 230 in central and southern Mexico, with the largest number of fatalities — 100 — in Mexico City.
Yet, in the space of 24 hours, a sense of terror shifted to a spirit of solidarity as friends, neighbors, relatives and often complete strangers came to one another’s aid, transcending Mexico’s usually rigid class divisions.
With many businesses closed, Osorio and his family, who have run a taco stand on Álvaro Óbregon street in the Roma neighborhood for 17 years, came out to support the rescue efforts with food, water and other supplies.
“The whole city was affected, and we’re part of the city, so we’re here to help,” he said. “What else were we going to do?”
Tuesday's 7.1-magnitude earthquake, with an epicenter southeast of Mexico City in Puebla state, occurred 32 years to the day after the country's worst temblor, which killed thousands in 1985, and 12 days after an 8.1-magnitude quake that rattled the capital and killed 98 people in southern Mexico.
Just days ago, the well-heeled residents of Roma, located close to the city’s downtown, were depositing canned food, blankets and water at drop-off points for their compatriots affected by the earlier quake in some of Mexico’s poorest, most rural areas. Yet as Álvaro Obregón street filled with dust and debris, with one building toppled and many others damaged, these residents, too, became victims.
“It felt like the world was ending,” said Amanda Ramírez, 22, who lives close to a collapsed apartment building where at least 13 people were still trapped beneath rubble. Following emergency protocols, she abandoned her third-floor apartment when the quake hit, leaving behind everything except her keys, and descended a staircase that veered and contorted beneath her feet.
“There were moments as I went down the stairs in which I thought, ‘Will I make it out?’ ” she said.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, windows were shattered and buildings rendered uninhabitable, forcing many to seek shelter elsewhere.
Ramírez, a pharmacist, was able to escape her building unscathed and returned only to pack an overnight bag before traveling to her mother’s house across the city. With scores of people still trapped and rescue operations underway in various parts of the capital, many others were not so lucky.
Rescue efforts have been led by joint teams of federal, state and local officials, along with the military. But ordinary citizens have also come forward to help, sometimes producing unlikely friendships.
University student Amelia Lara, 21, comes from Gustavo A. Madero, one of Mexico City’s poorest districts, yet on Wednesday she found herself bandaging the wounds of lawyers and workers from Mexico’s financial district as she volunteered to provide first aid.
“The conversations were interesting,” she said. “People were in shock, many were shaking and crying, so you just tried to take their minds off things, ask them about silly things.”
Mexico's capital is one of the world's largest cities and reflects the country's huge gulf between rich and poor. While residents of Roma enjoy leafy green parks, European-style cafes and well-kept streets, many of the city's less-fortunate citizens live in dusty slums on the edge of the metropolis, commuting to informal jobs in the wealthier neighborhoods.
As authorities barred many residents from returning to their homes because of structural damage, nearby Parque Mexico became a makeshift campsite where people grouped together, alert to the possibility of aftershocks that might cause further destruction. On Wednesday morning, the park was also a drop-off point for people wishing to donate blankets, water and other supplies.
The strong sense of solidarity in a city known for its obnoxious drivers and rough edges — not to mention its social snobbiness — reflects Mexicans’ typically resilient sense of humor.
“These kinds of events bring the best out of Mexicans,” said Álvaro Jiménez, a middle-aged engineer who was volunteering in the rescue efforts. “We can fight each other like dogs when things are going well, but when somebody needs help, we band together.”
With cruel irony, the city had undergone a drill to commemorate the capital’s far more destructive 1985 earthquake just hours before the latest disaster occurred. And by Wednesday afternoon, there were fears that another building, six stories high, could topple in the Roma neighborhood.
“It’s mysterious and it’s tragic,” Jiménez said. “But you can’t do anything to stop it. You just do everything you can to help the people affected.”