Aftershocks Slow Relief Work in Quake-Damaged Mexican Town; Nationwide Death Toll Rises to 90 - NBC 6 South Florida
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Aftershocks Slow Relief Work in Quake-Damaged Mexican Town; Nationwide Death Toll Rises to 90

Local officials said they had counted nearly 800 aftershocks of all sizes since late Thursday's big quake

A massive earthquake decimated houses, threatened to produce tsunami waves and left at least 15 dead on Mexico’s southern coast on Sept. 8, 2017. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says it had a magnitude of 8.2, which would make it the biggest quake to hit Mexico in a century. (Published Friday, Sept. 8, 2017)

Life for many has moved outdoors in the quake-shocked city of Juchitan, where a third of the homes are reported uninhabitable and repeated aftershocks have scared people away from many structures still standing.

The city on Sunday was littered with rubble from Thursday night's magnitude 8.1 earthquake, which killed at least 90 people across southern Mexico — at least three dozen of them in Juchitan itself.

Officials in Oaxaca and Chiapas states said thousands of houses and hundreds of schools had been damaged or destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of people were reported to be without water service.

Many people continued to sleep outside, fearful of more collapses, as strong aftershocks continued to rattle the town, including a magnitude 5.2 jolt early Sunday.

Photo credit: NBC

Some Juchitecos seeking solace trekked through the destruction to find an open-air Mass on Sunday since many of the churches were either damaged or left vacant until they could be checked.

Along a street lined with obliterated homes, the Rev. Ranulfo Pacheco delivered a homily to a couple dozen people on wooden pews that had been toted into the patio in front of his gray concrete Our Lord of Esquipulas church. He said many were fearful of celebrating inside the structure, which from the street seemed undamaged.

"One enters with fear, with a foot ready to run in case there's a sign that other shake is coming — and it continues moving," he said.

Local officials said they had counted nearly 800 aftershocks of all sizes since the big quake, and the U.S. Geological Survey counted nearly 60 with a magnitude of 4.5 or greater.

Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat said Sunday that the death toll in his state had risen to 71, while officials have reported 19 killed in Chiapas and Tabasco states.

Juchitan's downtown streets grew increasingly congested Sunday with dump trucks and heavy equipment to haul away debris. Smaller piles of debris were pushed into larger mountains of rubble reminiscent of the cleanup after a blizzard.

Teams of soldiers and federal police armed with shovels and sledgehammers fanned out across neighborhoods to help demolish damaged buildings. Other groups distributed boxes of food.

But help was slower to arrive in Union Hidalgo, a town of about 20,000 people about 30 minutes to the east.

Collapsed homes pocked neighborhoods there, and the town lacked electricity, water and cellphone service.

Delia Cruz Valencia stood in a puddle-filled street overseeing demolition of what remained of her sister's house next door. Her sister took their mother for medical treatment outside the city before the earthquake and had not been able to make her way back. Men with pry bars ripped away the bottom half of a brick and stucco exterior wall to rescue a large wooden wardrobe because the house was too unstable to access through the door.

Cruz said she was next door with her two daughters when the earthquake struck shortly before midnight Thursday.

"We all three hugged, but even so we were moving. We were pushed from here to there" by the rolling earth, she said.

When she reached the street, she saw a cloud of dust rising from the house her sister shared with their mother. Cruz's great-grandfather had built it a century ago.

"If my sister had been here, she wouldn't have been found alive," Cruz said, choking back tears.

Back in Juchitan, the general hospital has settled into a temporary home at a school gymnasium, with gurneys parked atop the basketball court.

The hospital's regular building was damaged. Maria Teresa Sales Alvarez said it was "chaos" when the earthquake struck the single-story building, but staff moved patients outside and transferred most of those who required specialized care to other facilities.

Selma Santiago Jimenez waved flies away from her husband on Saturday and mopped his brow while he awaited transfer for surgery. He suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident before the earthquake. Windows broke and doors fell in the hospital, but staff quickly helped get her husband out, she said.

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