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Direct Relief Staff Recount Recurring September 19 Earthquakes in Mexico

Significant quakes happened on the same day in 1985, 2017, and again this year. Direct Relief responded with field medic packs for first responders during the most recent event.



Direct Relief provided field medic packs for first responders in Michoacan, Mexico, as they responded to the impacts of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that rattled the area on Sept. 19, 2022. FedEx provided transportation for the shipment, free of charge. (Direct Relief photo)

Two days after celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day and on the anniversary of two deadly earthquakes that happened on the same day, 32 years apart, the ground shook near the Pacific Coast once again.

According to reports, the 7.6-magnitude earthquake was about 10 miles in depth, between Colima and Michoacan, a little over 20 miles from Placita de Morelos.

“It’s kind of ironic that we sing ‘retiembre en sus centros la Tierra,’ or “may the Earth tremble at its center” in our national anthem just days before this happens,” said Jonathan Mangotich, corporate engagement manager of Direct Relief’s operations in Mexico.

Mexico experienced severe earthquakes on September 19 over multiple years: in 1985, when over 10,000 people died; in 2017, when 350 people died; and again in 2022, when one death was confirmed.

Mangotich had returned from the Pacific Coast area where he was celebrating the national holiday when the earthquake happened. What was supposed to be a happy ending to a celebratory weekend, residents were stunned by another earthquake on the same day.   

In response, Direct Relief worked with the Department of Air Services of the Secretariat of Public Security of Michoacan to respond to the natural disaster. Donated field medic packs were used for critical care patients being airlifted from rural areas to hospitals in Mexico City and Morelia for emergency care.

Direct Relief staff in Mexico works in close coordination with local government, the medical community, and nonprofit organizations, and has built trust in communities that have seen recurring traumatic disasters.

Since 2008, Direct Relief has responded to the Swine Flu outbreak, coronavirus, hurricanes, and ongoing support for healthcare providers, which includes shipments of Vaseline, thermometers, over-the-counter products for cuts and bruises, and other prescription medications.

 In 2017 the earthquake happened around 1 p.m. on September 19, a date that Eduardo Mendoza, country director of Direct Relief’s operations in Mexico, remembered vividly.

“It kind of feels like you’re standing on jello or the gelatinous mold in the lava lamp and then the buildings around you start collapsing,” Mendoza said.

In 2017, Direct Relief responded to Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, to deliver medical supplies and medications after 350 people died from the 7.1-magnitude quake. At the time, Direct Relief began working with local government and organizations to set up temporary hospitals, gather medical staff, and day-to-day care around disaster relief.

The southwestern portion of Mexico is prone to earthquakes that lie within a subduction zone, or an area above a tectonic plate that is pushing down on another plate. It’s also a rural area that can be difficult to reach by car.

The government-run Department of Air Services has a team of 10 paramedics and four pilots that work to reach people in critical care in difficult areas like Michoacan, where about 4.7 million people live. Air Services has two helicopters and one airplane, which were used to transport five people to hospitals in Morelia and Mexico City following the September 19, 2022 earthquake.

Direct Relief provided field medic packs for first responders in Michoacán, Mexico, as they responded to the impacts of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that rattled the area on Sept. 19, 2022. (Direct Relief photos).

The department deploys its air units to respond after disasters, most often for trauma injuries, as well as complications with women giving birth.

The Air Department transferred patients from rural areas that had significant damage and took them to hospitals in larger cities where there was more support for food and medication, according to Oswaldo Abarca, who works for the department. 

Closer to the scene in Maruata, the Hospital Comunitario de Maruata was forced to temporarily close and evacuate patients due to infrastructure damage, Mangotich said. The Ministry of Health installed mobile units in Michoacan and Colima where damage was reported with at least 30 units. Almost two dozen other medical facilities were reportedly affected by the disaster, and almost a dozen schools temporarily closed in response to the earthquake.

Adding to the surreal nature of the day, the government hosts an annual earthquake evacuation drill on the morning of September 19 as a safety precaution. In 2022, the safety drill was practiced in the morning, and just a couple of hours later the ground started to shake.

It was the second time the earthquake alarm rang through the streets on September 19, 2022.  

“It’s like, ‘this is how you do it in the drill,’ and then you’re like, ‘wait, this is real’,” said Mendoza.

The alarm blares if the earthquake detection is a magnitude of 6 or above and urges residents to walk outside quietly.

“’No corro, no grito, no empujo,’ it means ‘don’t run, don’t yell, don’t push’,” said Mangotich. “You hear it, but people are still confused because it’s happening twice in one day.”

That’s terrifying for many who lost loved ones during the 2017 and 1985 earthquakes. In 2017, two major earthquakes shook within a month. An 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck on September 7, followed by a 7.1-magnitude quake on September 19. This year, the area experienced another earthquake three days later, when two people died.

Mendoza said residents held memorials for loved ones lost in 2017 when the September 19, 2022 earthquake began.

“That’s traumatizing for people to experience over and over again,” he said.

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