Cartel gunmen terrorize Mexican city, free El Chapo’s son

Cartel gunmen terrorize Mexican city, free El Chapo’s son
By Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Heavily armed fighters surrounded security forces in a Mexican city on Thursday and made them free one of drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s sons, after his capture triggered gunbattles and a prison break that sent civilians scurrying for cover.

Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said a patrol by National Guard militarized police first came under attack from within a house in the city of Culiacan, 1,235 km (770 miles) northwest of Mexico City.

After entering the house, they found four men, including Ovidio Guzman, who is accused of drug trafficking in the United States.

The patrol was quickly outmatched by cartel gunmen, however, and it was withdrawn to prevent lives being lost, the government said. Simultaneously, fighters swarmed through the city, battling police and soldiers in broad daylight. They torched vehicles and left at least one gas station ablaze.

“The decision was taken to retreat from the house, without Guzman, to try to avoid more violence in the area and preserve the lives of our personnel and recover calm in the city,” Durazo told Reuters.

The reaction to Guzman’s capture was on a scale rarely seen during Mexico’s long drug war, even after his more famous father’s arrests. The chaos was continuing as night fell.

A large group of inmates escaped from the city prison. Residents cowered in shopping centers and supermarkets as gunfire roared. Black plumes of smoke rose across the skyline.

Families with young children left their cars and lay flat in the road. Bullets cracked up ahead. “Dad, can we get up now?” a small boy said to his father in a video posted on Twitter.

“No, stay there on the floor,” the man replied, his voice trembling.

Cristobal Castaneda, head of security in Sinaloa, told the Televisa network that two people had been killed and 21 injured, according to preliminary information. He said police had come under attack when they approached roadblocks manned by gunmen. He advised residents not to leave their homes.

It was not immediately clear if members of the patrol were harmed in the standoff. Reuters TV showed scenes of at least three bodies lying next to cars on the street.

WARNED OF REPRISALS

The chaos in Culiacan, long a stronghold for the Guzmans’ Sinaloa cartel, will increase pressure on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December promising to pacify a country weary after more than a decade of drug-war fighting. Murders this year are set to be at a record high.

Thursday’s events follow the massacre of more than a dozen police in western Mexico earlier this week, and the killing of 14 suspected gangsters by the army a day later.

Falko Ernst, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said the release of Ovidio Guzman set “a dangerous precedent” and sent a message that the state itself, including the army, could be blackmailed and was not in control.

Presumed cartel members apparently intercepted a radio frequency used by security forces, one video showed, warning of reprisals against soldiers if Guzman was not freed.

A state police spokesman confirmed to Reuters that several prisoners escaped from a prison during the chaos. Video footage showed a group of at least 20 prisoners running in the streets. It was not immediately clear how many had escaped.

“They are freeing them,” a panicked woman said in the video apparently filmed from an tall building. “No we can’t go outside!” she said as other voices debated making a dash for their car.

In another video, a man driving repeatedly shouted: “There is a big gunfight,” before taking a sharp turn and leaving his car at a gas station to take cover. His voice then became inaudible because of the rattling roar of automatic gunfire.

‘El Chapo’ Guzman led the Sinaloa cartel for decades, escaping from prison twice before being arrested and extradited to the United States. He was found guilty in a U.S. court in February of smuggling tons of drugs and sentenced to life in prison.

He is believed to have about 12 children including Ovidio. The U.S. Department of Justice unveiled an indictment against Ovidio and another of the brothers in February, charging them with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana in the United States.

The indictment gave Ovidio’s age as 28, and said he had been involved in trafficking conspiracies since he was a teenager.

Jose Luis Gonzalez Meza, a lawyer for the Guzmans, told news network Milenio that Ovidio had been in touch with the family and said he was free.

(Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Writing and additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

U.S. lays barbed wire at border as migrant caravan draws closer

U.S. Marines work to move building materials as they harden the border with Mexico in preparation for the arrival of a caravan of migrants at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego, California, U.S., November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Lizbeth Diaz

TIJUANA (Reuters) – Hundreds of Central American migrants planning to seek asylum in the United States moved toward the country’s border with Mexico on Tuesday as U.S. military reinforced security measures, laying barbed wire and erecting barricades.

Some 400 migrants who broke away from the main caravan in Mexico City arrived in the border city of Tijuana on Tuesday by bus, according to a Reuters witness. Larger groups are expected to arrive in the coming days, human rights organizations said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he would travel to the border area on Wednesday, his first visit since the military announced that over 7,000 U.S. troops would go to the area as the caravan of mostly Hondurans has made its way through Mexico.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that it would close lanes at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa crossings from Tijuana to allow the Department of Defense to install barbed wire and position barricades and fencing. Tijuana, in the Mexican state of Baja California, is at the westerly end of the border, around 17 miles (38km) from San Diego, California.

“CBP has been and will continue to prepare for the potential arrival of thousands of people migrating in a caravan heading toward the border of the United States,” Pete Flores, the agency’s director of field operations in San Diego, said in a statement, citing a “potential safety and security risk.”

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a firm stance against the caravan, which began its journey north on Oct. 13 and briefly clashed with security forces in the south of Mexico early on its route.

On Friday, Trump signed a decree that effectively suspended the granting of asylum for those who cross the border illegally, a move that could drastically slow claims at gates of entry.

But migrants planning to seek asylum in the United States said they were undeterred by the crackdown.

“I prefer to be in detention in the United States than to return to my country, where I know they are going to kill me for being different,” said Nelvin Mejía, a transgender woman who arrived in Tijuana on Monday with a group of about 70 people seeking asylum. “Last month, they killed my partner, and I do not want to end up like that.”

For years, thousands of mainly Central American immigrants have embarked on long journeys through Central America and Mexico to reach the United States. Many of them die in the attempt or are kidnapped by organized crime groups.

Several thousand more migrants in at least three caravan groups are making their way through Mexico toward the border.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; writing by Julia Love, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

First wave of Central American migrants arrives in Mexico City

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, queue to receive food as they stay in a sport center used as shelter in Arriaga, Mexico November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The first Central American migrants from a caravan traveling through Mexico toward the United States in hopes of seeking asylum arrived in Mexico City on Sunday, taking up temporary shelter at a sports stadium.

More than 1,000 Central Americans, many fleeing gang violence and financial hardship in their home countries, bedded down at the stadium where the city government set up medical aid and food kitchens.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections this Tuesday, President Donald Trump has warned repeatedly about the advance of the caravan and ordered thousands of troops to the Mexican border, where units strung up razor wire this weekend.

The migrants arrived in the capital, nearly 500 miles (805 kilometers) from the closest border crossings in Texas, four weeks after setting out from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

“Our heads are set at getting to the United States, to fulfill the American dream,” said Mauricio Mancilla, who traveled with his six-year old son from San Pedro Sula. “We have faith in God that we will do this, whatever the circumstances.”

Thousands more Central Americans were moving in groups in the Gulf state of Veracruz, the central state of Puebla and in the southern state of Chiapas, local media reported.

“This is an exodus,” Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and migrant rights activist, told reporters. “It’s without precedent.”

The U.S. government has pressured Mexico to halt the advance of the migrants and President Enrique Pena Nieto has offered temporary identification papers and jobs if they register for asylum in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s government said on Saturday it was processing nearly 2,800 asylum requests and that around 1,100 Central Americans had been deported.

At the capital’s famed shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a group of Mexican volunteers called out on bullhorns, offering bus rides to migrants to the stadium.

Cesar Gomez, a 20-year old Guatemalan, said he jumped at joining the caravan to avoid the dangers of traveling alone and paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers.

“This was a good opportunity,” he said as he waited for a ride. “The first thing is to try for the United States. If not, maybe I will stay here.”

(Reporting by Josue Gonzalez, Stefanie Eschenbacher and Alberto Fajardo; Editing by Susan Thomas)

Migrant caravan could be in Mexico City by Friday: Honduran official

A young migrant, traveling with a caravan of thousands from Central America en route to the United States, sleeps atop baggage resting on a stroller while looking to go to Arriaga from Pijijiapan, Mexico October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

By Delphine Schrank

PIJIJIAPAN, Mexico (Reuters) – A caravan of Central Americans bound for the United States that has drawn fire from U.S. President Donald Trump could reach Mexico City by next Friday, the Honduran ambassador to Mexico said on Friday.

Trump has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border and cut aid to Central America to try to stop the caravan of several thousand people. U.S. officials have said that up to 1,000 troops may be sent to the U.S. southern border to prevent the migrants from crossing.

The caravan, moving through the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, has enabled Trump to campaign hard on illegal immigration ahead of midterm congressional elections on Nov. 6, in which Republicans are battling to keep control of Congress.

Mexico’s government has said that more than 1,700 people in the convoy have registered for asylum, while others have returned home. Estimates on the size of the group vary.

Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador to Mexico, told Mexican radio that the caravan could reach Mexico City by next Friday. He put an “official” headcount at 3,500, estimating that at least two-thirds of them were Hondurans.

The caravan set off in Honduras nearly two weeks ago, and has picked up other Central Americans en route. Rivera said it was not clear which route it would pursue in the coming days.

Alexander Fernandez, a Honduran traveling in the caravan, said people began leaving the town of Pijijiapan at about 3 a.m. to head for Arriaga, a town in the west of Chiapas. He said a stop was planned in the town of Tonala.

A banner hanging over a bridge on the migrants’ path read: “Your hearts are brave, don’t give up.”

Tens of thousands of Central Americans set off for the United States every year, looking to escape violence and poverty. Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans make up the bulk of illegal immigrants apprehended at the U.S. border.

On Thursday night, thousands of people took refuge under small tents or teepees made from garbage bags in Pijijiapan’s town square. Many people rushed to a nearby river in the afternoon to wash off the sweat of travel and extreme heat.

A White House official said on Thursday that “a wide range of administrative, legal and legislative options” were being considered regarding the migrants.

(Additional reporting by Veronica Gomez in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham)

Fireworks blasts kill at least 24 near Mexico City

A firefighter talks to a resident at a site damaged due to fireworks explosions in the municipality of Tultepec, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Two explosions at fireworks workshops outside Mexico City on Thursday killed at least 24 people, including rescue workers, and injured dozens more, officials said, in the latest deadly blast to hit a town known for its fireworks production.

After a first blast in the municipality of Tultepec, firefighters, police and other rescue workers arrived at the scene when a second explosion occurred, the state government said in a statement.

“Emergency crews attended the call of the first explosion, when a second incident occurred, killing and injuring members of these groups,” the statement said.

Television images showed a plume of smoke rising over buildings on the outskirts of Tultepec and scores of firefighters and rescue workers at the scene.

The attorney general’s office for the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous state which rings the capital, said that 17 people had died at the blast site and another seven died in hospital.

Another 49 people were injured, the statement added.

A series of blasts have taken occurred at the fireworks markets, workshops and depots in Tultepec, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City, including massive explosions in a market in December 2016 that killed around three dozen people.

Luis Felipe Puente, the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, said the sale of fireworks in the area would be suspended and permits of manufacturers would be reviewed.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)

Mexico swinging against the establishment as presidential campaign starts

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto is pictured during the 80th anniversary of the expropriation of Mexico's oil industry in Mexico City, Mexico March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Frank Jack Daniel

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexicans tired of graft and chaotic violence look set to reject the party that has governed the country for most of the past century, embracing a global anti-establishment mood by favoring a leftist dissenter in a presidential election.

Campaigning formally starts on Friday for the July 1 election and major opinion polls show Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with a large lead, with the mainstream opposition challenger second and the ruling party candidate far behind.

Mexico suffered its worst murder toll on record last year as organized crime ran rampant smuggling drugs, fuel and people, while corruption scandals battered the credibility of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Those issues rather than the economy are topping Mexicans’ concerns going into the campaign, but the outcome could mark a shift away from decades of gradual economic liberalization.

While Lopez Obrador now embraces the North American Free Trade Agreement and has softened his opposition to existing private investment in the energy sector, he has flagged a more cautious approach to further opening up the economy.

His popularity has been fanned by U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough policies on trade and immigration and insults that have angered Mexicans. His government could seek to row back bilateral cooperation that has gathered pace under Pena Nieto.

“The people want a change, that’s why our adversaries are getting really nervous,” Lopez Obrador said last week.

The centrist PRI has ruled Mexico continuously since 1929, except for a 12-year break when Vicente Fox and his successor led the National Action Party (PAN) to power in 2000 and 2006.

Both the PAN and the PRI favored opening the economy to more foreign investment and close ties with the United States.

DEEP-ROOTED CORRUPTION

Variously described as a left-winger, a populist and a nationalist, Lopez Obrador quit the PRI in the 1980s and his subsequent political career included a stint as mayor of Mexico City, one of the world’s largest metropolises. He has been in permanent opposition since first running for president in 2006.

He says only he can clean up deep-rooted corruption in the traditional parties. At the same time, he promises to change the constitution if he wins to end immunity for sitting presidents and hold regular referendums on key issues, including one every two years on whether he should continue his six-year term.

“We Mexicans are now seeing there are definitely two alternatives before us,” Tatiana Clouthier, a senior member of the Lopez Obrador campaign said on Thursday: more of the same, or a government that will spread the wealth more widely.

In second place is former PAN chief Ricardo Anaya, whose coalition includes center-left parties once allied to Lopez Obrador. He has pitched himself as a modern alternative to the unpopular PRI and to Lopez Obrador’s personalized leadership.

For many voters, July 1 will be about rejecting either the corruption of the ruling party, or Lopez Obrador, said Ernesto Ruffo, a PAN senator who in 1989 became the first politician to wrest control of a state government from the PRI.

“This is an election not for, but against,” he said.

Only Anaya, said Ruffo, offered a vision of the future.

The campaign of PRI candidate Jose Antonio Meade, who is not a member of the PRI, admits political parties are deeply mistrusted but says Meade is best placed to capture the mood.

Meade says Lopez Obrador’s jabs at the private sector, much of which the 64-year-old has excoriated as corrupt, will damage investment sentiment.

“When there’s investment there are jobs,” Meade told Mexican radio on Thursday. “When there are jobs we fight poverty.”

(Additional reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Dave Graham and Paul Tait)

Weak columns, extra floors led to Mexico school collapse, experts say

People put floral wreaths for the students of the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico city, Mexico September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

By Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A Mexico City school that collapsed in a powerful earthquake last week killing 19 children buckled under the heavy weight of floors added over the years with scant steel support, according to experts and witnesses.

The tragedy at the privately owned Enrique Rebsamen school in southern Mexico City, in which seven adults also died, has become a symbol of the devastation inflicted by the country’s 7.1 magnitude quake, the worst in a generation. At least 355 people died in the capital and surrounding states.

“The building was badly designed, poorly calculated and poorly constructed,” said Alfredo Perez, a 52-year old civil engineer who dashed to the school shortly after the Sept. 19 quake to help rescue efforts. “The reinforced concrete doesn’t comply with specifications in construction regulations.”

Alongside rescue workers, Perez said, he pulled bodies from the rubble. Then he sat in one of the undamaged classrooms and drew plans detailing potential design failures in the collapsed building.

Reuters showed those plans to six structural engineers along with Reuters’ photos of the ruined structure. They independently concluded that the structure’s columns lacked sufficient steel rebar to support all four floors and prevent them from snapping in such a powerful earthquake.

While the quantity of steel required under Mexico’s stringent post-1985 building code varies depending on the size of structure, all six engineers said the building’s columns were built with too little steel to withstand strong quakes.

Perez and another engineer specified that columns appeared to have less than half the required amount of steel reinforcement. They base their view on the number of vertical and horizontal steel rebar rods in the columns, which are visible in Reuters photos along with the measurements in Perez’s plans.

“It comes down to the lack of steel,” said Troy Morgan, a New York-based senior managing engineer at Exponent, an engineering consulting firm.

Since a 1985 quake toppled hundreds of buildings in Mexico City, planning officials developed a strict building code at the forefront of international standards for quake-proofing that raised the proportion of required steel reinforcement.

Reuters was unable to locate or contact the school’s owner and principal, Monica Garcia. Teachers, current and former students and their families all said she had been at the premises during the quake and survived.

Reuters was unable to identify the builder. A spokesman for the Tlalpan district where the school was located said property owners are not required to notify authorities of the builders or architects they used for modifications. The spokesman said the district had no record of the builder that worked on the new floors at the school. People living by the school said they did not know who had done the work.

The Mexico City urban development department did not respond to requests for comment on whether the inspectors who certified the school had proper licenses or any history of complaints.

Although the school was founded in 1983, before the new code took effect, the administrative building that buckled was expanded from two to four floors over the last decade or so, neighbors and former students said.

Photos published by Google Maps show the building had four floors as of 2009 with an expansion of the top floor by 2014 and a further expansion in 2016.

“It definitely did not comply with the post-1985 code,” said Eduardo Miranda, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Stanford who collected statistics on buildings that collapsed in Mexico’s 1985 earthquake, citing the code, photos and plans.

Construction permits released by local authorities dated in 1983 and 1984 authorized a four story structure at the school site. The top two floors were added much later, meaning the existing structure should have been brought up to modern standards, according to Mexico City’s construction code.

The engineers who studied the photos and plans said the existing building had not been visibly reinforced.

Mexican prosecutors said they had opened a probe into potential criminal responsibility of the owner and private inspectors for the collapse. Prosecutors also said they had opened an investigation in February into whether the school had the proper zoning permits to operate.

Luis Felipe Puente, coordinator of Mexico’s Civil Protection department, told Reuters that local officials, the construction company and the owner of the property could all be held accountable if any violations were discovered.

One inspector, Juan Apolinar Torales Iniesta, gave the buildings its most recent safety certificate in June according to documents filed with the local government, which released them publicly.

Torales did not respond to requests for comment sent to telephone numbers and emails listed in a government database. At Torales’ government-registered address, a man refused to identify himself and said the registered architectural engineer did not live there.

Claudia Sheinbaum, Tlalpan district mayor, filed a criminal complaint on Thursday accusing two prior attorneys for the district Alejandro Zepeda and Miguel Angel Guerrero of maliciously failing to enforce the law after discovering unpermitted construction between 2010 and 2014 on the upper floors.

“What we’ve found is truly outrageous,” she said, referring to a document dated Nov. 8, 2013 by the Tlalpan public works department that described demolition work on the upper floors causing structural damage to the building. Despite that document, which she made public and was reviewed by Reuters, the school was allowed to keep operating with a small fine, Sheinbaum said

Guerrero did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent to his email address. Zepeda did not respond to a message sent to his Facebook account.

‘LACK OF STEEL’

All six engineers said the addition of two floors dangerously loaded down the building, given its lack of steel support.

“If it was kept at two levels, it would have not collapsed…it would not have caused so many deaths,” said Casey Hemmatyar, managing director at Pacific Structural and Forensic Engineers Group, a consultancy firm in Los Angeles.

Based on the position of the ruins, the school lurched as much as 18 feet (5.5 m) towards the street before collapsing, a sign of weak columns, said Geoffrey Hichborn, chief engineer at Building Forensics International, a concrete consulting firm in Anaheim, California.

Mexico City’s government has not completed its own analysis, and Sheinbaum said the rubble would be left in place for engineers to investigate.

Documents published by Sheinbaum on Tlalpan district’s website, including building inspection reports and closure orders from the district’s attorneys, show that officials ordered fourth-floor construction to be halted at several points between 2010 and 2014 because it lacked proper permits.

Sheinbaum’s complaint filed Thursday refers to these documents and others filed with the district to say the irregularities were never resolved.

“No evidence or documents exist that allow the conclusion that these irregularities were corrected,” the complaint said. Reuters was unable to independently confirm whether or not corrective measures were taken.

(Additional reporting by Stefanie Eschenbacher, Anthony Esposito and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Frank Jack Daniel)

Hope evaporating, a grim wait for relatives after Mexico quake

Hope evaporating, a grim wait for relatives after Mexico quake

By Ana Isabel Martinez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Relatives waiting on Wednesday outside an office block that collapsed last week in Mexico City’s earthquake have resigned themselves to the likelihood that their loved ones did not survive, as a stench of death seeped from the rubble.

Soldiers, firefighters and volunteers have worked day and night since the Sept. 19 quake to find those trapped. In the past few days the search has narrowed to a handful of buildings. The focus is on the office block in the chic Roma district, where over 30 people are still missing.

Authorities say 337 people have been confirmed dead so far in the 7.1 magnitude quake, Mexico’s most deadly in a generation.

“Sadly, we have to be realistic, what we want are our relatives’ bodies at the very least,” said Martin Estrada, 51, whose son is believed to buried under the building.

Like others waiting for news of their relatives, Estrada was critical of a lack of information from authorities. He said the rescue had been too slow to save his son.

One rescue worker at the site said a putrid smell pervading the air was evidence bodies were still in the building.

The earthquake, and one a few days earlier that killed around 100 people, have become political issues for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, stretched to capacity by the disasters and coming under increasing criticism.

“We blame the government for their deaths,” Estrada said.

The earthquakes caused $2 billion in damage to schools, housing and heritage sites including churches, ministers said on Wednesday. Private estimates range from $2 billion to $8 billion.

Pena Nieto said funds set aside for disaster recovery “were not infinite” and warned financing would have to be reassigned in the 2018 budget, which is currently under discussion in Congress.

At least 190,000 buildings have been seriously damaged across Mexico by the quakes and storms in recent weeks, Pena Nieto said on Tuesday. A senior official said there was a collapse risk at 1,500 buildings in the capital.

Residents carry their belongings from their homes in the rubble of a collapsed building at Iztapalapa neighbourhood, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Residents carry their belongings from their homes in the rubble of a collapsed building at Iztapalapa neighbourhood, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

SMOKING MOUNTAIN

Earlier in the day, smoke, ash and red-hot rocks belched from the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City, heightening anxiety for many locals, although officials said there was no imminent threat.

Popocatepetl, whose name means “Smoking Mountain” in the native Nahuatl language, showered a village at its base with ash, shook with the force of a 1.8 magnitude earthquake and spewed flaming rocks to distances of up to 1 km (0.62 mile), the National Disaster Prevention Center (Cenapred) said.

The earthquake had its epicenter just a few miles from the volcano and “probably pushed” the volcanic activity, Carlos Valdez, director of Cenapred, told Reuters.

However, eruptions at the volcano have become relatively common since it reactivated 23 years ago.

On a clear day, Popocatepetl looms on the horizon of Mexico City 44 miles (71 km) away, and volcanic ash occasionally blows into the city.

Winds blew the ash on Wednesday towards Ecatzingo, a village under the volcano that suffered damage to its church and dozens of houses in last week’s quake.

(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez, Writing by Frank Jack Daniel, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Mexico in three-day countdown to search for earthquake survivors

Rescue teams remove rubble of a collapsed building after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

By Daniel Trotta

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Rescuers are unlikely to find any more survivors of Mexico’s earthquake still buried in the ruins and will cease operations to find them at the end of Thursday, the emergency services chief said.

Tuesday marks one week since the 7.1 magnitude quake struck around lunchtime, killing 331 people, damaging 11,000 homes and leading to a outpouring of civilian volunteers to aid and comfort the victims.

Luis Felipe Puente, coordinator of Mexico’s Civil Protection agency, told Reuters that rescuers would continue hand-picking through the debris at four sites until Thursday.

“I can say that at this time it would be unlikely to find someone alive,” Puente said, considering that specially trained dogs have yet to pick up the scent of survivors.

Forty-three people were still missing, including 40 who may have been trapped beneath a collapsed office building in the Roma district of Mexico City, Puente said. One person was believed missing at each of three other sites in the capital.

At the office building, relatives protested overnight, increasingly angry with the slow progress recovering their loved ones and an alleged lack of information.

Asked how much longer search and rescue operations would continue, the official responded, “As of today (Monday), we have agreed to another 72 hours.”

The week began with signs that Mexico was resuming its routine as the streets filled with traffic and more than 44,000 schools in six states reopened.

But in the capital city, only 676 of the more than 8,000 public and private schools resumed classes.

The quake, coming exactly 32 years after a 1985 earthquake killed some 10,000 people, delivered a massive psychological blow that specialists say will take time to overcome.

“The children are in crisis and don’t want to talk. Some kids didn’t even remember their own names,” said Enriqueta Ortuno, 57, a psychotherapist who has been working with victims in the hard-hit Xochimilco district.

Much of the nation’s attention was focused on a fallen school in Mexico City where 19 children and seven adults died. Later on Tuesday, the top official in the municipality where the school was located was due to reveal documents related to the its construction.

That school was one of many buildings that prosecutors will investigate, Puente said. Roughly 10 percent of damaged buildings were constructed after strict building codes were enacted in the wake of the 1985 earthquake.

“The Mexico City mayor and the national government have already ordered judicial investigations to determine who was responsible for new construction that did not meet the requirements,” Puente said from Civil Protection headquarters, where a roomful of technicians monitored seismic activity and tropical storms on an array of screens.

In Mexico City, 187 people died in 38 buildings that collapsed. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said thousands of families who lost their homes in uninhabitable buildings would be offered 3,000 ($170) pesos monthly in temporary rent assistance.

Rescuers pulled 69 people from quake-damaged properties, of whom 37 were still in the hospital as of Monday, 11 of them in grave condition, Puente said.

Demolitions of buildings that are beyond repair could begin as soon as Tuesday, he said.

Responders from 18 countries came to Mexico to help, but with the search for survivors down to four sites most of them had gone home, with Americans and Israelis among the few to remain, Puente said. The Japanese contingent left on Monday.

International aid was now focused on humanitarian needs, Puente said, with China providing large numbers of beds, tents and kitchen and bathroom fixtures for temporary shelters for the homeless.

But the biggest contributions came from Mexicans themselves, who responded with so much food, supplies and volunteer work that officials had difficulty moving largesse from wealthy and accessible neighborhoods to the most needy.

Puente recognized some “deficiencies” in coordinating relief efforts, but overall, he said, “The government today is an international benchmark.”

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Bill Trott)

Rescuers in desperate search for girl as Mexico quake toll hits 225

By Michael O’Boyle and Ana Isabel Martinez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Rescuers frantically worked to dig a young girl out from under the rubble of a partially collapsed school on Wednesday, a small glimmer of hope amid devastation from a major earthquake that killed at least 225 people across central Mexico.

Television network Televisa broadcast the dramatic rescue attempt live after crews at the school in southern Mexico City reported finding the girl, seeing her move her hand and threading a hose through debris to get her water.

The identity of the girl was not immediately known. The effort to rescue her is part of a search for dozens of victims feared buried beneath the Enrique Rebasmen school, where local officials reported 21 children and 4 adults dead after Tuesday’s quake. The school is one of hundreds of buildings destroyed by the country’s deadliest earthquake in a generation.

The magnitude 7.1 quake, which killed at least 94 people in the capital alone, struck 32 years to the day after a 1985 earthquake that killed thousands. Mexico is also still reeling from a powerful tremor that killed nearly 100 people in the south of the country less than two weeks ago.

As rescue efforts continued at the school, a facility for children aged 3 to 14, emergency crews, volunteers and bystanders toiled elsewhere using dogs, cameras and heat-seeking equipment to detect survivors.

Reinforcements also began to arrive from countries including Panama, Israel and Chile, local media reported.

Hundreds of neighbors and emergency workers spent the night pulling rubble from the ruins of the school with their bare hands under the glare of floodlights. Three survivors were found at around midnight as volunteer rescue teams known as “moles” crawled deep under the rubble.

By Wednesday morning, the workers said a teacher and two students had sent text messages from within the rubble. Parents clung to hope that their children were alive.

“They keep pulling kids out, but we know nothing of my daughter,” said 32-year-old Adriana D’Fargo, her eyes red, who had been waiting for hours for news of her seven-year-old.

Overnight, volunteers with bullhorns shouted the names of rescued kids so that tense family members could be reunited with them.

The earthquake toppled dozens of buildings, tore gas mains and sparked fires across the city and other towns in central Mexico. Falling rubble and billboards crushed cars.

Even wealthier parts of the capital, including the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, were badly damaged as older buildings buckled. Because bedrock is uneven in a city built on a drained lake bed, some districts weather quakes better than others.

Parts of colonial-era churches crumbled in the adjacent state of Puebla, where the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) put the quake’s epicenter some 100 miles (158 km) southwest of the capital.

Rescue workers search through rubble during a floodlit search for students at Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City, Mexico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Rescue workers search through rubble during a floodlit search for students at Enrique Rebsamen school in Mexico City, Mexico September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

VOLCANO ERUPTS TOO

Around the same time that the earth shook, Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano, visible from the capital on a clear day, had a small eruption. On its slopes, a church in Atzitzihuacan collapsed during Mass, killing 15 people, Puebla Governor Jose Antonio Gali said.

In Rome, Pope Francis said he was praying for Mexico, a majority Catholic country. “In this moment of pain, I want to express my closeness and prayers to all the beloved Mexican people,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday: “God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.” Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto spoke at length on Wednesday, according to the White House.

Residents of Mexico City, home to some 20 million people, slept in the streets while authorities and volunteers distributed food and water at tented collection centers.

Other volunteers, soldiers and firefighters formed human chains and dug with hammers and picks to find dust-covered survivors and bodies in the remains of apartment buildings, schools and a factory.

With each layer of rubble that was removed, workers pled onlookers and volunteers for silence, desperate to hear the sound of any survivors below.

Some volunteers in Mexico City expressed frustration at the disorganization among military and civilian emergency services, which competed over who would lead the rescue efforts.

“There is so much bureaucracy and so many obstacles in the way of getting these kids out alive,” said Alfredo Perez, 52, a freelance civil engineer, who arrived at the Enrique Rebsamen school in the early hours of the morning to help.

The middle-class neighborhood of Del Valle was hit hard, with several buildings toppling over on one street. Reserve rescue workers arrived late at night and were still pulling survivors out early Wednesday.

With power out in much of the city overnight, the work was carried out with flashlights and generators.

Moises Amador Mejia, a 44-year-old employee of the civil protection agency, worked late into the night looking for people trapped in a collapsed building in the bohemian Condesa neighborhood.

“The idea is to stay here until we find who is inside. Day and night.”

In Obrera, central Mexico City, people applauded when rescuers managed to retrieve four people alive, with cheers of “Si se puede.” — “Yes we can.” — ringing out.

Volunteers arrived throughout the night, following calls from the civil protection agency, the Red Cross and firefighters.

The quake killed 94 people in the capital by Wednesday morning, according to Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera. In Morelos State, just to the south, 71 people died, with hundreds of homes destroyed. In Puebla at least 43 died.

Another 17 people were reported killed in the states of Mexico, Guerrero and Oaxaca. The governor of Morelos state declared five days of mourning.

Nearly 5 million homes, businesses and other facilities lost electricity, according to national power company Comision Federal de Electricidad, including 40 percent of homes in Mexico City. Power was later re-established to 90 percent of the areas affected.

Still, much business and industry in affected areas suffered interruptions. After the quake struck, carmaker Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE> temporarily shut its sprawling Puebla factory, its biggest outside of Germany, but then restarted operations Tuesday night, according to a statement from the company.

 

(Additional reporting by David Alire Garcia, Anthony Esposito, Lizbeth Diaz, Daina Beth Solomon, Stefanie Eschenbacher, Julia Love, Noe Torres; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Alistair Bell)