The Mexico Earthquake Taught Me Strangers Can Be Wonderful People

I’ve been living in this city for 22 years and have never seen anything like this.

In the most difficult moments, you really know people. Some are no longer friends, while out of nowhere and through different circumstances, strangers can become very close friends.

This relationship of solidarity between strangers was one I experienced when a group of people – who came together in the Zócalo in order to help those affected by the fall of a multi-family building in Tlalpan – decided to pick me up so I could get to the scene. In a store in Tlalpan, we made a stop so we could buy helmets and gloves for those who did not have them due to the suddenness of our departure. In the middle of Avenida Tlalpan, people in other cars, who hadn’t come with us, offered water and help.

This same solidarity was what I saw when we arrived at the scene: a housing unit in Tlalpan and Álvaro Gálvez y Fuentes, a suburb of Educación – south of Mexico City – where dozens of people sought to rescue survivors of a building collapse. They were organized into two lines, which stretched from the remains of the building up to the street: one to remove debris and the other to return the empty buckets. Some of the participants were neighbors and rescuers who had worked since the day before. Others lived far away and had arrived to the scene just two hours previous but were integrated with such seamlessness that they seemed like residents of the area. Everyone was eerily silent and raised their fists to the sky when silence was needed, and all moved rubble with energy and speed when needed.

This same solidarity was what I felt in the people who, stopped in a housing unit’s side street, organized themselves into two lines in broad daylight and waited there in silence, even for those who would never come. It was also in those who repeated, like an echo around the corner, the words coming from the collapse area, which made evident urgent needs: “saw,” “shovels,” “broomstick,” “soapy water” (to detect gas leaks), “picks,” “a veterinarian,” “portable oxygen,” “cutter,” “cutting pliers,” “dog bowl,” “sounding line,” “fire crew,” “spotlights,” “jig saw” (which some confused with “climber” until, with slight smiles, they were corrected), “dog bowl,” “cutting blades for concrete, wood and metal...” 

This same solidarity was shown in the volunteers with whom I spoke. Especially by Luis Reyes (one of the most famous rescuers), who mentioned they had rescued 16 people and that, as of around 3 p.m., there were still eight trapped alive in the building, including children (these figures vary depending on time and source). Luis had returned to Mexico City almost two days before to help in places such as Juchitán and Ixtepec, in Oaxaca. And he had also searched for people after the earthquakes in Japan, Nepal and Ecuador. After taking a 10-minute rest and talking with someone who asked for information about their family member inside the collapsed building, Luis returned to the action. 

This same solidarity was shown by the neighbors who set up simple food stands; by those who passed through the street and sidewalk passing out pies, water and sandwiches, whether you were a rescuer or simply an observer; by the priests and the faithful of the church in San José, bordering the site, who distributed food and in whose building was installed a hostel that, aside from serving as a collection center, also functioned as a dining room; and by those who joined together to push away a parked car and thus help to clear the exit route.

This same solidarity was what made everyone, for a moment, briefly applaud, perhaps without understanding very well what had happened.

Those who were there related to each other as if we were old friends, and many of us had only a few minutes to get to know one another. Or simply to look at one another.

I’ve been living in this city for 22 years and have never seen anything like this.