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Packs Of Teens On Bikes Join Volunteer Effort After Mexico Earthquake


Now to Mexico, which is still cleaning up after two major earthquakes this month. And a third quake rattled the country today. Just this morning, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake toppled homes and a highway bridge. But after a disaster, one of the hardest things can just be getting around. As NPR's Nick Fountain reports in Mexico City, a low-tech solution is emerging - kids on bikes.

NICK FOUNTAIN, BYLINE: All over Mexico City, you see them traveling in packs - teenagers on mountain bikes often carrying backpacks, emergency supplies, even shovels. I caught up with one of these informal teams at a park. Among them, a guy with reddish hair and one of those tight-on-the-sides, long-on-the-top haircuts.

EMILIANO GUTIERREZ: My name is Emiliano Gutierrez.

FOUNTAIN: Emiliano is 18. He's in high school, but classes have been canceled since the earthquake. And he says his fellow bikers are his football team. I assume he means soccer.

GUTIERREZ: No, no, no - American.

FOUNTAIN: American football?

GUTIERREZ: American football. We love American football.

FOUNTAIN: What's your favorite team?

GUTIERREZ: Dallas Cowboys.

FOUNTAIN: You love the Cowboys?

GUTIERREZ: Yeah (laughter).

FOUNTAIN: But these guys have no time to talk. They pick up their bikes.

GUTIERREZ: We're going to travel around the hoods looking for people that need help.

FOUNTAIN: All right. Let's go

GUTIERREZ: Let's go.

FOUNTAIN: I borrow a bike and follow them.

GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FOUNTAIN: We're weaving around emergency vehicles, police barricades and crowds of volunteers.

GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FOUNTAIN: I'm just slowing them down.

GUTIERREZ: If you can go faster, please (laughter).

FOUNTAIN: OK. I'll try to go faster. Let's go. Vamos.

Here's the way it works. People around Mexico City have been dropping off food, water, medical supplies at distribution centers. And Emiliano and his team, they show up with backpacks and ask if there's anything that needs to be delivered to the emergency workers at the collapsed building.

GUTIERREZ: This is my backpack.

FOUNTAIN: And he's putting sandwiches in it?

GUTIERREZ: Yeah. It's for the people that are helping out.

FOUNTAIN: This may seem like a tiny act of heroism, but after the volunteers load up the backpacks, they give the team a round of applause.


FOUNTAIN: People here in the destroyed neighborhoods of Mexico City say it's inspiring to see teenagers throw themselves into this rescue effort. Marcel Julienne is a volunteer in his late 30s. He told me how the 1985 earthquake here really shaped a generation, and he thinks this week's quake will be the same for these teenagers.

MARCEL JULIENNE: Of course it's a turning point. It's beautiful. There's a lot of love.

FOUNTAIN: Emiliano and the rest of the football team take off with their backpacks to a collapsed building in the Condesa neighborhood, where rescue workers are digging through the rubble, looking for any survivors. They hand over hundreds of ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FOUNTAIN: And almost immediately, they're given their next mission - find candy. Apparently, the rescue workers here really want something with sugar in it to help keep people awake. And Emiliano and his football team, they say, yes, of course. They're just happy to be of use.

GUTIERREZ: If I lost my house, if I lost everything, I really would like it that some people helped me.

FOUNTAIN: And with that, they ride off...

GUTIERREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FOUNTAIN: ...On a mission to find sweets. Nick Fountain, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.