Nos Hicimos Heroes


More Good Intentions Than Sense

2017 September 21

On Tuesday, September 19 around 1:14pm local time Central Mexico experienced a 7.1 magnitude earthquake. I was in México City when it happened.

México city, an extremely built up and wealthy area, has had a lot of damage. It's not as bad as the quake they had in '85, but plenty of people have been affected. But it would seem that the poorer areas to the south have received much greater damage. Some have reported that the federal government, continuing with its typical focus on the capitol, is ignoring the greater need in the surrounding areas.

The worst disaster in the city has been the collapse of the Enrique Rebsamen Primary School, which has killed or trapped dozens of little children. The rescue work there is ongoing.

Mexico's unofficial, untrained CERT

In this quake, as in that of '85, there has been no shortage of volunteers seeking to lend a hand to those in need. México is quite proud of its conscientious citizens. The news share reports of private heroes worming their way into collapsed buildings, rescuing those most in need. The streets and public transportation are filled with brigades of college aged kids carrying brand new, and for the most part, unused hardhats, gloves, and tools. All the government controlled public transportation has been free of charge on the 20th and 21st. These brigades of self styled heroes have been milling around the city looking for someone to save.

Not being able to resist getting in on the action, we decided to go out in search of heroism too.

Del Valle

First we went to Del Valle. From where we live at the edge of the city, Del Valle is near the center, and an area that we know well. It was reported that the Del Valle, and Roma, Condesa, and Narvarte was where the greatest damage was. In retrospect I'm starting to believe that these areas were just reported more because the area is more central, important, and wealthy.

We found the Metro to be quite empty despite being free, and on arrival things seemed quite normal. We expected to find disaster easily, but it actually took a little searching.

What we did finally find was an enormous crowd of people. Volunteers, Police, Army, Navy, Fuerzas especiales(Regular police with an extra blue vest), and food and supplies stacked up at least a block away from the wrecked building in every direction. In the distance, in the direction of the dust cloud we could hear a bulldozer running. We couldn't get anywhere near it. There were at least a thousand people, most of them just standing around, not least of which the officials. Plain-clothes people with whistles and megaphones were blocking and directing traffic at intersections well away from the area. And these were intersections where the stoplights were working just fine. Uniforms were standing in lines all over the place but nobody seemed to be in charge. There was no perimeter to speak of, just mobs of people and goods. It seems that the fame of the place had drawn a disproportionate amount of people to the location.

After a while a megaphone declared that there was no need here and that we should go to Xochimilco where the disaster had otherwise been ignored.

Follow the leader to Xochimilco

Off to Xochimilco we declared, returning to the Metro with a whole crowd of hard hats. As we passed each station some hardhats would enter, and surprisingly some would leave. Surely the greatest need was in Xochimilco; we should all be heading to the same station. Upon arrival, hardhats left the station in every direction. We latched on to one particularly large group that seemed to know what they were doing. Or at least it sounded like they were taking directions from Civil Protection.

Our Merry Band

The skies began to threaten rain as the forecast had predicted. For what seemed like an hour we wound our way through quite residential streets following the leader in what was clearly a Google maps route. Google makes no distinction between public and private roads and happily lead us to the entrance of a gated community that we had to detour around. As we marched, tools in hand, cars beeped and people shouted support from their windows. One person donated a box of bottled water and bananas. How heroic of us.

Upon Arrival we could confirm that there was indeed a damaged building at the end of our travels. complete with crowd, official and otherwise, and a table with food. They needn't have bothered: the building contained no victims, and was damaged enough that one would have been crazy stand near it, let alone enter.

Without ceremony our little brigade evaporated, and we found ourselves again without a purpose and not knowing how to get back. Fortunately there were other disillusioned souls trying to head back to the Metro. We fell in with them.

At this point I was getting quite hungry. I didn't want to make free with the donated food; That was for the heroes.

El Micro

While trying to pick our way back to the metro station we passed an aid station where some people were energetically loading bottled water onto a micro-bus. They said a hospital had collapsed on Insurgentes. Surely now was our chance; we boarded the bus.



It turns out they were an entire family, grandparents and children, one of whom is a bus driver. Our mission was to deliver food and water to the valiant rescue workers. We were carrying a cooler full of warm tortillas and a huge pot of rice and another of hotdogs in salsa, plus the aforementioned water.

From Taxqueña we cut through the city traffic, down Aztecas and right past our apartment over to Perisur. When we arrived we could see immediately that the hospital was still standing, and there were already several other vehicles offloading food. We were told that the collapsed building was actually at Hospital General downtown on the other side of Del Valle.

From there we continued following rumors of destruction and need. We listened to the radio; we stopped people on the street asking for news. We went completely around Ciudad Universitaria back to where we started. Then instead of chasing hospitals we went back to Xochimilco. We saw collapsed buildings and hero teams, police and army. Many vehicles around us had stickers and posters stuck to them saying things like "Volunteer Service", or "Support Vehicle". Some even had added yellow flashing lights. Everyone got to be a hero. We stopped in several places ever more desperate to pass out our supplies before they got any colder / mushier / dryer. Each place we went the collection / distribution centers were overfull. The people on the streets had already been force-fed by those that came before us. Ayuda a víctimas del sismo: estos son los centros de acopio en el país

Collecting Supplies at the IMSS

More Perishables and water than
anyone knows what to do with

We finally ended up at the hospital IMSS 32. We broke out the folding table and set up our wares, first on the median of the road out front, then inside the fence, and after it started raining we moved into the waiting room. Most everyone had already been fed and fed again. They were sick of sandwiches and were pining for tacos.

More people arrived bringing more water and sandwiches. Many just left their stuff with us. A tote completely filled with sandwiches, various cardboard boxes of tortas, a bag full of guava, and of course bottled water. Around 9pm we started packing things back into the bus. We now had far more food and water than what we had started with and all of it perishable. We had hundreds of sandwiches, some wrapped in paper, and all getting mushy. On the radio we could hear what sounded like an official report from the aid stations saying there is no need for more food, water, or clothing at the present time.

Our new friends agreed to take us to Taxqueña, the nearest metro station. On the way we picked up a rescue team carrying brand-new pick axes with stickers still on the blades. They told that so many people needed help that they had been all over the city and didn't even know where they were anymore. What gallant heroes!

We were obliged to take home a couple gallons of water and bags of sandwiches. As I write I an enjoying one of these mushy dry gifts. Doubtless the city will have a great deal of organic waste in the next couple of days. To me it is no wonder that every disaster service ever asks for non-perishables only.

I have heard no real news of any hospital taking serious damage. In '85 Several hospitals did collapse and the government claims to have enforced strict building codes since then. If only they had applied those same requirements to schools.