Photos by Daniel Cima.
During Red Cross Month, we salute all the heroes who make a difference in their communities every day. This week we’d like to highlight heroes – beneficiaries and Mexican Red Cross volunteers – who survived a devastating earthquake that struck Mexico last September.
The moment my plane landed from a field visit to Mexico, text messages came pouring in from family and friends—frantically asking if I was OK.
It was Friday, February 16, and a 7.2 magnitude earthquake* shook the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, sending tremors to Mexico City—the city I left just a few hours prior. I had been in Mexico—on behalf of the American Red Cross—visiting communities still reeling from a 7.1 earthquake that hit last September, which killed more than 300 people and damaged thousands of buildings.
From Mexico City to the states of Morelos and Puebla, we met people who lost their homes and their livelihoods, but not their spirits.
Although I was safe in the U.S., my mind raced to the people I spoke with during the visit; men, women, and children who shared with my team, in vivid detail, their experiences surviving last year’s earthquake.
We met Red Cross volunteers who helped deliver aid and provide comfort to earthquake survivors, even when they themselves had suffered losses. People of all ages—children, parents, and grandparents—opened up to us and shared that they were simply happy to be alive.
These stories bring hope and strength to a country that has suffered such tremendous loss. The six earthquake survivors below inspire me and I hope they inspire you, too.
Said, a Red Cross volunteer, lost his home but prioritized helping other survivors first.
Said was at the local Red Cross office in Morelos when the earthquake struck on September 19, 2017. Since it hit during work and school hours, he was relieved to know that no family members were home at the time. Although he got word that his house suffered significant damage, Said knew he had a job to do—he knew he had to help his community.
“The house is destroyed, but I have life and I have the opportunity to help people that have had it worse than me.”
These two girls used skills they learned at school to escape collapsing buildings.
Evelyn, 13 years old, was at school when the earthquake struck. Her sister Mayerlik, who is eight years old, just left school and was visiting their grandmother. Both girls sprang into action when they felt the earth tremble beneath them. Annual disaster drills conducted by their school taught them the steps to take when earthquakes hit. As a result, the two girls ran out of the buildings they were in and survived the earthquake—all thanks to the training they received at school.
Their father, standing in this photo with his daughters, is incredibly proud of their bravery.
This family watched their house crumble to the ground.
Norma was at home with her husband and two children when the earthquake struck. As the ground shook, she quickly woke her family from their afternoon nap and pushed them outside. They managed to get out in time but were forced to watch helplessly as their house—made of adobe, like many of the homes in their community—turned into rubble. Today, the family is living temporarily in a small room they built next to where their old house used to be.Norma’s family is one of many who received food, water, and other aid from the Red Cross after the earthquake struck. To Red Cross donors who helped Norma and her family, she asked us to pass along this message.
“Thank you for remembering us. God bless you and I wish you the best wherever you are.”
This father is living in a tent while he works to rebuild his family’s home.
Before the earthquake struck, you could find Pedro working in the local corn fields. Today he’s working to rebuild his family’s house located in the town of Pilcaya in southwestern Mexico. He and his family are living temporarily in tents until they finish rebuilding their house. The Red Cross provided Pedro with items like food, hygiene kits, and sleeping cots to help his family through their darkest days.
“The most beautiful thing is that we are alive and I’m able to share what we’ve been through.”
This woman donated money to help neighbors living in a shelter near her house.
“I gave them what I had.”
Florina is no stranger to disasters. Last April, part of her home was engulfed by a wildfire. Fortunately, she survived. When September’s earthquake struck, Florina ran out of her home and threw herself on the ground. Once again, Florina survived, but this time it was her community that needed help. Despite her modest means, Florina donated as much as she could to people who were staying in a local shelter set up for earthquake survivors.
This Red Cross volunteer comforted a mother who lost her daughter.
Soon after the earthquake struck, Jazmin was sitting in a Mexican Red Cross ambulance when she heard a woman pleading for help. The woman was desperately looking for her teenage daughter who she believed was in the collapsed building behind them. Jazmin comforted the mother as they waited to hear about her daughter. In the ambulance, she checked the woman’s vitals and provided comfort and care during those agonizing hours. Days later, Jazmin and the woman learned the young girl was found lifeless in the collapsed building.
“What left an impression on me was meeting the families and seeing them go through the process of searching for their loved ones. Being there for them as they anxiously waited to find out their fate. It was devastating but important.”
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Notes about American Red Cross’s work in Mexico:
Thus far, the American Red Cross has contributed $3.55 million to support earthquake relief efforts in Mexico. These funds have been used to purchase kitchen sets and cots—and have helped Mexican Red Cross volunteers provide food, water, shelter, medical assistance, temporary shelter, psychosocial support, personal hygiene items, household clean-up kits, blankets, mattresses, stoves, and more. The American Red Cross is continuing to work with the Mexican Red Cross to support longer-term recovery activities with the additional funds raised.
*Notes about recent quakes in Mexico:
There have been three large earthquakes in Mexico in the past six months:
- an 8.1 quake in Oaxaca on September 8, 2017;
- a 7.1 magnitude quake in Puebla on September 19, 2017; and a
- 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Oaxaca on February 16, 2018. This quake caused buildings to sway, but no immediate injuries or deaths were reported. However, three deaths were recorded after a military helicopter lost control while trying to land in a town near the earthquake’s epicenter.