Mexico: ‘This is like a horror story’

Mexico: ‘This is like a horror story’

Mexicans displaced by quake say ‘This is like a horror story’

Inside the Francisco Kino Elementary School a miniature city has emerged at the site of a shelter for people who lost their homes in last week’s deadly earthquake.

On the school’s open-air courtyard, doctors test blood pressure and glucose levels at a makeshift triage centre set up on a plastic table. Nearby, children get haircuts while stressed-out parents receive massages.

But frustration is growing inside the gym, where families camp out on mattresses alongside piles of new, donated belongings. Days without easy access to a shower and the loss of simple liberties like deciding when to turn out a light to go to asleep have become aggravating.

They want to know: How long will they be stuck here?

“This is like a horror story,” said Ana Maria Castaneda, 49, who is living at the shelter with five relatives.

Related: The search for survivors continues in Mexico

More than 12,000 people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by the magnitude 7.1 quake have spent at least one night in a shelter since the quake, the Mexican government says.

Officials pledged Tuesday to give families chased from their homes a monthly payment of 3,000 pesos — the equivalent of about $170 — to find a new place to live for a total of three months. But an average one-bedroom apartment outside Mexico City’s centre can easily run twice as much.

“We will directly support families with resources and materials to repair damages or build a new home,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a televised address Tuesday night.

Government employees fanned out Tuesday urging the 25 families living at the Francisco Kino school to visit a nearby park where officials have set up areas for victims to sign up for benefits, but the suggestion was met with skepticism and resistance. If they went to the plaza, some people worried, they might lose their coveted spots at the shelter. Some 500 families were forced from nearby apartment buildings after one collapsed and the school had space only for two dozen.

“Sorry to interrupt you,” one elderly woman sitting on a donated mattress said at a meeting with a visiting representative from Mexico City’s Women’s Institute. “They tell us if we leave here, we’ll lose our shelter. But if we don’t go there, we might miss out on government benefits.”

“After the fright of the quake, why are they scaring us with these threats?” she asked.

The residents were urged to go one-by-one to sign up for government assistance, leaving family members to watch over their belongings.

According to Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, inspectors have examined damage at 10,903 properties so far and 83 per cent of the structures are safe to live in. That means about 1,800 have been marked uninhabitable.

In all, some 43 shelters across the capital have tended to 24,000 people since the Sept. 19 quake, though many came just for a plate of food before finding a place to stay with friends or family.

It’s unclear how long the shelters will be operating. Volunteers and government employees stationed at the Francisco Kino school — a shelter run largely by neighbourhood residents — said it would stay open for the foreseeable future.

“As long as is necessary,” said Elizabeth Garcia, a government worker inspecting the site Tuesday.

The mountain-like piles of donated water bottles and medical supplies along with the growing level of organized services give the impression of a population that is starting to settle in. Rows of toothbrushes and toothpaste rest on sinks outside a children’s bathroom. A room that once held school materials has been fashioned into a space for medical donations. A cardboard box holds mounds of antibiotics. On a desk are Styrofoam cups holding injectable medicines like anti-inflammatories that are labeled with a black marker.

Dr. Misael Dominguez, an attending physician, said doctors have “practically everything we require.”

“We have seen a lot of high blood pressure and sugar levels from the stress,” he added.

At that moment, a doctor was poking one of Roberto Ramirez’s fingers with a needle to draw blood and test his glucose levels. Ramirez, a 33-year-old musician and computer programmer, is a diabetic and lives in an apartment that has been deemed too dangerous to inhabit. He was away from home when the quake struck and wasn’t able to retrieve his glucose testing kit.

He said he has been trying to take better care of his health since the quake, saying, “I value things more.”

The result came back high: 259.

Related: Mexico tallies the cost of deadly earthquake

To the left of the entrance are signs offering psychological services. Many of those sheltering at the school have arrived with the quake’s trauma still weighing heavily on their minds.

Florencia Cortes, 37, was pulled from the rubble of her apartment building along with her 20-month-old son, Jonatan. In order to get her son out, she had to swing him toward the building’s plumber, who happened to be outside. He caught hold of the boy by his foot.

Jonatan used to follow his mother around everywhere. Now she says he stick by his father, who wasn’t home during the quake.

“He’s not the same,” Cortes said. “Maybe he thinks I threw him and don’t love him.”

Many of the shelter residents harbour a deep mistrust of their government to set things right. While government workers occasionally come in, for the most part officials have been absent, they say. Some are vowing to stay until they’re given a new place to call home.

“The government has the last word and no one knows anything about the government here,” said Angelina Usuna, 81.

Night can bring the hardest hours. A lucky few have donated mattresses, but most are sleeping on uncomfortable foam mats. They get a few hours of sleep at best. Wary of sharing a collective space, no one feels entitled to tell someone else to be quiet or turn out a light.

In fact, it’s impossible to make the gym completely dark. As part of the shelter’s safety protocol, one light must be kept on in case another tremor strikes.

Christine Armario And Natacha Pisarenko, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Intricate cloth masks with Indigenous design made by Teresa Snow. Facebook/ Masks4Maskwacis
‘Masks 4 Maskwacis’ wins Northern Lights Volunteer Award

The group received recognition for their efforts to support their community during COVID-19.

Flora Northwest was taken to the Ermineskin residential school when she was six years old. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
Ermineskin residential school survivor: ‘It just brings me back to the cries at night’

Discovery in Kamloops of remains of 215 children a painful time for survivors

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

Most Read