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World

Earthquake Hits Mexican State Of Morelos Hard

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Rescuers are digging through the rubble in central Mexico. More than 200 people died as a result of the earthquake that struck on Tuesday. That includes children killed when their school in Mexico City collapsed. But we have also seen moments of hope. Some 50 people have been pulled out of the debris alive. Let's head now to the colonial town of Jojutla, close to the epicenter. James Frederick sent this report.

JAMES FREDERICK, BYLINE: Nearly 24 hours after the earthquake hit, Sara Dame (ph) is still panicked and confused, tearing up at the memory of the shaking.

SARA DAME: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: She was picking up her daughter from school when the earthquake hit, she says. When they made it back home, their house was flattened - everything gone. They slept at a neighbor's last night. But they now have nothing and nowhere to go.

But it's not just her simple home that was toppled. Sara's in the central square of a Jojutla, a centuries-old town two hours south of Mexico City. Here in the square, the town hall is in shambles. An entire wall collapsed. She finds mayor Alfonso de Jesus Sotelo to ask for his help.

DAME: (Speaking Spanish).

ALFONSO DE JESUS SOTELO MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: He grabs one of his local policemen to bring the rest of her family to a shelter manned by the army. Sotelo is shattered looking at his city.

SOTELO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: "Jojutla is made up of small businesses and shops," he says. "The majority of damaged buildings are these businesses. It is completely devastating."

SOTELO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: While many eyes have been on the earthquake effects in Mexico City, this town of 20,000 people was crumbling. Its old adobe buildings were no match for the 7.1 quake. Mayor Sotelo says 2,000 buildings are damaged - 300 of those totally collapsed. Sixteen people have died, including four children.

SOTELO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: "Repairing this is totally unfeasible," he says. "The idea of this town being able to pay for recovery is crazy."

SOTELO: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: On the day the earthquake happened, residents in Jojutla say they felt forgotten that donations and volunteers weren't coming to them. A day later, that has changed.

Hundreds of young volunteer rescue workers line up to clean rubble. Donated bottles of water and canned food pile up all over town. And President Enrique Pena Nieto is visiting today to survey the damage. Crying citizens pushed their way through the crowd to ask for his help.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: I'm walking a few steps ahead of President Pena Nieto who came here to see the state of Jojutla after the earthquake, and the street he's walking on is just unbelievable. Every second or third house is totally flattened in front of me. There's almost half a city block that is just rubble.

In a corner of town the president didn't make it to, Alfredo Ortiz (ph) is sitting with family and friends watching a backhoe clear away rubble. The two houses next to his collapsed. And the damage means his house will probably be condemned.

ALFREDO ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: He says, like everyone here, he doesn't have the money to rebuild. He'll have to sell things, take out loans - whatever he has to do to get his mother and nephews back in a house. Alfredo wasn't interested in seeing or talking to the president. He says he has little faith that the government will help him or his neighbors rebuild. But he has hope elsewhere.

ORTIZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FREDERICK: "I think this could end up in a change for the better," he says, "because if there's one thing that unites us Mexicans, it's tragedies like this earthquake." For NPR News, I'm James Frederick in Jojutla, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF T-BONE BURNETT AND THE CIVIL WARS' "I DO EXIST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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