This Saturday, September 19, marks three years of the 7.1 intensity earthquake with epicenter in the border area between Puebla and Morelos, leaving 369 fatalities -228 in Mexico City-, thousands of victims in Morelos, Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, and million-dollar property damage in public buildings, as well as commercial and private properties.
Animal Politics interviewed victims who chronicle what these three years have been like in which, in addition to their homes, they are trying to rebuild their lives after the tremor.
Read: Debts, Psychological Sequels and Lessons Learned: This Is How 19S Victims Rebuild Their Lives
Years of uncertainty
The building where Jesús Castillejos lives, at number 405 Seville Street, in the Portales Norte colony of the capital mayorality Benito Juárez, passed through the three colors of the structural risk traffic light that the previous government of the city created to catalog the thousands of properties that were damaged by the ism.
It went through the color red, that is, risk of imminent collapse; by yellow, which meant that it had severe damage and that an in-depth review was necessary; and even by green, that is, it was a safe, low-risk, perfectly habitable property.
Although, as he noted in a political animal report published a month after the tremor, at first glance the damage was more than obvious and the building, rather, looked like a disaster zone: the debris was scattered down stairs, debris and inside the apartments, through which you could barely walk.
The brick walls were cracked by cracks in the shape of equis, so deep that they even showed the inside of the adjoining room. And on the beds of the bedrooms lay wooden shelves, pieces of fractured ceiling, and the closet doors that the sism ripped from the hinges.
On the ground floor, in the garage, the postcard was just as unsettling: a forest of hundreds of wooden polyns helped the battered concrete beams support the weight of a four-level building, located just a few feet away from Tokyo 517, which partially collapsed.
«It was months of uncertainty,» says Jesus Castillejos now, as this Saturday marks three years of the earthquake. We went out of our way for about a year of red tape just to be told exactly what the damage our building had and whether we could one day return to our homes.»
«It was chaos,» emphasizes Jesus, who recalls the nights sleeping on mattresses donated under the plastic of a makeshift tent, in which the neighbors guarded to avoid looting their heritage.
«We didn’t know what to do, because we’d never faced a situation like this before. And the authorities didn’t agree either. They didn’t know where we had to go knocking on doors. We were all the same.»
Finally, after several conflicting opinions, and after the insurance did not agree to cover the damage by ism – only thefts, fires and floods – other Directors responsible for works (DRO) of the city government arrived who made a definitive study in which, after scanning the structure, it was determined that the building had significant damage, but was rescued.
So, through a construction company, the city executive installed new reinforcing steel beams, repaired the damage, and after a year of work handed it over to its tenants in September last year.
Think about your survival
«When I returned to my apartment, that first night I was happy and grateful, but I was also reminded of the memories of the nightmare we lived that day. I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid the same thing would happen again.»
Now, Jesus realizes that, like many victims, and like many of the people who lived that day one of the most destructive tremors in Mexico, his life has changed in many ways.
Of course, panic at seismic alert is the most present sequel.
«To hear that alert again is to relive the nightmare, literally. It’s a fear that even if you get on with your life and sometimes forget all this, it’s always there with you, especially at night.»
Seville 405. Courtesy
In fact, Jesus adds, since that 19 September he sleeps with the tennis courts by the bed, and with his ear pending in case he has to run out, as he claims he did in the last tremor of June, when despite the pandemic he went out into the street without cover-
Another consequence: look for cracks and evacuation routes anywhere.
«Inadvertently, I’ve already become expert in cracks in walls, walls and trabes,» he says with a laugh. «When I walk and see a building the first thing in theor that I look at that, to see how their trabes are, if it doesn’t have cracks or some crack.»
«I also look a lot at possible evacuation routes. I never thought about that before, but now I’m always calculating the best escape route, or where the building’s security zone is. Or, if I walk down the street, I look at the places that don’t have tall buildings around, or light poles.»
«I mean, inadvertently, you already think about your own survival. To be ready for when the next ism comes.»
However, the victim assures that the main change, the great learning left by the tremor, is somewhat deeper.
«Now I focus a lot more on my health, and on having the people I love closest,» he says.
«I know that material hurts, I have lived it in my own flesh. But buildings can be rebuilt. Instead, the loss of a loved one… that’s never rebuilt. That’s why, after the ism, I live less to the race and more to the day, in the present. Enjoying every moment.»
«Back to normal is far away»
«Every time the seismic alert sounds it’s like traveling back in time.»
Carlos Luz, neighbor of the Multifamily Tlalpan, in Mexico City, says he felt that way when just last June 23 the seismic alert took the city’s breath again with the warning that a 7.5-intensity sismo was on its way from the depths of Oaxaca in southeastern Mexico.
It’s been three years since the 19S. The Multifamily, after strenuous red tape, protests, road cuts, and so on, is rebuilt. And building 1C, in which nine people lost their lives, is back on its feet and with people inhabiting its apartments.
Still, Carlos says that during the 62 seconds of the alert’s metallic sound on June 23, his mind played a trick: he moved it back to the silence that reigned in the area after the brutal impact of the collapsed building on the ground. He smelled the sweet aroma of gas again, permeating the environment. To chok into the dense rain of dust that covered the parked carriages. To listen to the muted cries of help from the neighbors. To feel the fear in saliva and to feel the skin brated with the image of rescue brigades of all ages and nationalities trying to get through the gaps of the rubble.
«Life changed us in two seconds,» Carlos recalls. «And going back to that full normality, to the life we had three years ago, it’s still a long way off.»
«And if you add up what we are living now, then even more complicated. Because we have not yet overcome the devastating effects left by the tremor, when we are already involved in a terrible pandemic.»
After three years of bureaucratic nightmare and multiple disagreements with the city government, Carlos claims that he is finally satisfied with the reconstruction of his building and the Multifamily. The executive spent $400 million reinforcing the nine buildings and delivering apartments with new hydraulic and sanitary facilities, and with new floors, windows, bathrooms, and kitchens.
«They practically gave us a house rebuilt from scratch, although knowing that they are obviously departments that are more than 50 years old,» says the neighbor.
Still, Carlos says that, like other neighbors who decided to rent his apartment in the new 1C so as not to return to that place of so many painful memories, he would like to sell his property. Pass the page and start from scratch elsewhere, away from the Multifamily and everything that lived that September 19th.
But he won’t be able to do it, at least in the next five years. Since the agreement with the capital government is that owners of rebuilt homes cannot sell them until after that time.
«Actually, I’m not afraid I’ll shake again and the building will fall off. I’ve been very aware of what reconstruction and reinforcement was like, and I think a good foundation has been done, a good job. That’s not the problem,» says Carlos, who from his balcony sees just a few meters away the new 1C that rises in the place of the accident.
«The thing is, honestly, after the tremor I no longer wanted to go back. I always said that when they handed me the apartment, I was going to sell it. But now, with this thing that I can’t sell it for five years, and with the rents as they are, I have no choice but to go back to the Multifamily and wait for that time to pass quickly to start my life elsewhere again.»
Victims of the Tlalpan Multifamily have almost entirely returned to normal. Fourthcuro
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