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Mexico Continues To Dig Out From 7.1 Magnitude Earthquake


In Mexico, rescuers are still searching for survivors from Tuesday's earthquake. At least 280 people died. Many buildings collapsed. Others were severely damaged. NPR's Carrie Kahn has the story of one building in Mexico City. Its seven stories collapsed in seconds, trapping dozens of people. Some of them were rescued.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The seven-story, dark beige, modern building at 286 Alvaro Obregon stood out on the tree-lined boulevard. Its modern glass facade clashed with the colonial architecture all around. It looked wedged in between a small chiropractor's office and an outdoor cafe. On Tuesday, Diana Pacheco was in her office on the fourth floor. She was just hired at IPS, a human resource agency, in June. That afternoon at 1:14, the earth began to rattle and shake violently. Within seconds, building 286 crumbled, crashing to the ground. Pacheco's husband had heard the building had fallen. He ran there with his mother-in-law, Olga Tejeda Serrano.

OLGA TEJEDA SERRANO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "When we saw the building totally fallen, collapsed," she says, "we all thought the worst." Pacheco's husband tried to get past the rescuers and get to his wife, but he was kept behind a barrier throughout the night. At 6 Wednesday morning, 17 hours after the quake hit, his phone pinged with a text on WhatsApp. Tejeda says it had been delayed coming through because the networks were so jammed. She says the message was brief.

TEJEDA: (Through interpreter) My love, you know I love you so much. I'm trapped on the fourth floor in the emergency exit stairwell. There are four of us here, and below me there are many more.

KAHN: Tejeda says her son ran and got the information to the rescuers, telling them exactly where his wife was, to look in the stairwell. Within 20 minutes the workers reached her, slabs of concrete everywhere, so close to her neck. They got her out. Tejeda says her daughter-in-law had spent the hours trapped, distraught.

TEJEDA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: She thought about her two kids, her husband, how she was never going to see them again, she says. But as the hours went by, she held on. She had plenty of oxygen and could feel the night's breeze on her face. While Pacheco was one of nearly two dozen rescued out of building 286, dozens more may still be trapped inside. Maria de Pilar and her boyfriend ran an accounting firm on the fourth floor. Her niece worked with them, too. Their business was growing, and they decided to find a bigger office. They had recently moved to 286. No one has heard from them since the quake.

MARTA ALICIA SOLORIO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: De Pilar's cousin, Marta Alicia Solorio, has been outside 286 for days with nearly a dozen family members. She says her cousin must have had at least 20 employees by now.

SOLORIO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "And all we can do is hold on to hope that they'll be found," she says. Hope is what kept Diana Pacheco alive during her 17-hour wait to be rescued. Sitting in the waiting room of a Red Cross hospital her mother-in-law, Olga Tejeda Serrano, says Pacheco is recovering. Her face is less swollen than when she was pulled out. Tejeda says she thanks God rescuers got to her daughter-in-law in time.

TEJEDA: (Through interpreter) So often we don't make time to hug our loved ones, give them a kiss. (Speaking Spanish). After believing we had lost her, well, I told myself I'm not going to miss another opportunity.

KAHN: Tejeda says she'll hug and kiss her strong, brave daughter-in-law often. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.