Just moments before she and her students were thrown to the ground in a violent earthquake in Mexico City Tuesday, teacher Grace Stearns and her students at the American School Foundation were taking part in a city-wide earthquake drill.
Tuesday was the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake that left 10,000 people dead, and students in Stearns’ classroom calmly practiced what they would do if a temblor struck the city.
They couldn’t imagine just how real that drill would become in the following hours.
The 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook the city, radiating out from its epicenter in Puebla state on Tuesday afternoon. Scores of buildings collapsed. More than 200 people died.
Back at the school, a projector began swinging in the teacher’s classroom and the shaking started getting “very violent,” Stearns recalled Wednesday to Direct Relief.
“We all got simultaneously thrown to the ground,” she said. After regaining their footing, the class ran outside, where “everyone was trying to get in touch with friends and family.”
Most of the children were able to get home on their bus routes or with parents picking them up. Other schools in the city did not withstand the quake, with one collapsing, resulting in over 30 students dead.
Stearns and other teachers debated whether they should stay at the school or take a chance walking to their homes. Because traffic was gridlocked, she eventually decided to walk home. Her walk home to the Roma neighborhood took over an hour.
Walking through the streets of Roma, she saw “significant, significant structures damaged.”
Many people had set up temporary shelter because they weren’t allowed to go back into their buildings. Stearns operates a business in Condesa. It was spared, but several buildings nearby were destroyed. She and her neighbor, Ali Baker, were headed out Wednesday morning to try and help workers still trying to free people from the rubble.
Throughout Roma, the pair witnessed the neighborhood struck by catastrophe. A well-known park, Jardin Pushkin, was filled with people on Tuesday night who were unable to reenter their homes.
Down the street, a hospital in Roma was evacuated after the quake. Many patients set up on stretchers with IV bags at their side, under the trees of a stretch of the slender park that separates the Álvaro Obregón.
Many makeshift aid stations have been set up in the neighborhood and across the city, and butcher paper on a nearby wall outlines what is needed most. Handwritten lists of things like food and water are also listed with calls for basic medicines like antibiotics, as well as items like insulin.
Direct Relief is coordinating with Mexico-based companies and national emergency response organizations to get desperately needed medicine to those impacted by the earthquake.
Direct Relief has Donataria Autorizada status from the Mexican government, allowing companies in Mexico to receive tax benefits for donations to the organization.
Major contributions from companies like FedEx and Baxter, which have a significant presence inside Mexico, have allowed medicines and medical resources from within the country to be routed to people who need them.
The full extent of the earthquake’s toll on human life and property is still coming into focus, and the recovery is continuing, with people still sifting through rubble to find survivors.
In Condesa,”everyone in the community was out, taking away rubble, taking away rocks,” Baker said. “It was really amazing to see the community support.”