Wed | Dec 13, 2017

Survivors recount amazing escapes from earthquake

Published:Friday | September 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Conrad Vazquez Martinez, 67, recuperates after falling from a tree and being buried under rubble in last week's earthquake, at the Magdalena de las Salinas trauma hospital, in Mexico City, on Wednesday.

MEXICO CITY (AP):

A tree branch saved a maintenance mechanic from the collapsing building where a dozen co-workers died when last week's earthquake rocked central Mexico. A slap across the face startled a dazed father back to his senses, spurring him to carry his critically injured daughter to safety. Neighbours, co-workers and passers-by pulled people from the jaws of death, while taxis, private cars and even buses rushed them to hospitals.

Amid the endless tragedies from the magnitude 7.1 quake that killed more than 300 people, there were incredible stories of survival.

Conrad Vazquez Martinez, a 67-year-old mechanic, was on the roof of the four-story laboratory building where he worked in Mexico City's Roma Norte neighbourhood when the quake hit at midday September 19.

"I wanted to run to get to people, but the building was collapsing behind me," Vazquez Martinez said Wednesday as he lay in a bed at the Magdalena de las Salinas hospital, recovering from a broken hip and leg. "I ran and ran, and with one jump I grabbed a branch that grew close to the building."

"Another employee and I had once talked about that branch. We said, 'If there's ever a problem here, we'll jump out here,'" he remembered. "Unfortunately it was old, and it broke."

But Vazquez Martinez never let go of the branch, and it proved a life saver. He fell through the lower branch and on to the sidewalk in front of a neighbouring building, breaking his hip and leg. And then a second miracle: A metal balcony grill fell over him, partly shielding him from the direct impact of rubble that tumbled over him.

The tree branch, which he still gripped in one hand, poked out of the debris to give him a trickle of air.

"The metal grate had a screen, so the chunks of concrete didn't fall directly on me," he said. "When everything stopped falling, I tried to stretch myself out, but the concrete chunks felt heavier and heavier, they were pressing me, heavier all the time."

... God even provided him with water

His face, mouth and nose full of rubble, Vazquez Martinez noticed that a jug of water he had on the roof had fallen nearby. "God is so great, that even water was provided."

He called and whistled, and eventually co-workers found him and dug him out.

"Losing my co-workers was what most hurts," he said. "My hope was to get out and save people, but I couldn't, I failed."

"But I did one thing. I closed the valve on the gas tank," Vazquez Martinez added, recalling his actions in the first moments when the earthquake started. "It was bomb there," he said of the big heating gas tank on the roof. "It may have saved the whole neighbourhood."

Dr Fryda Medina, director of the hospital where he is being treated, said that on the day of the quake, patients were delivered by volunteers in private cars and taxis. Two patients were brought aboard buses. The staff, and even retirees, all volunteered to work through the night and following days, when over 300 injured from the earthquake were brought in. Only one died, she said.

"It was in those moments that one feels the spirit we have in Mexico, the solidarity," Medina said at the hospital, which is operated by Mexico's Social Security Institute.

There were other incredible escapes from death. American photojournalist Wesley Bocxe and his wife, Elizabeth, made it to the roof of their 10-story apartment building when the quake started. His wife was killed when the floors underneath pancaked into a pile of rubble, but Bocxe somehow survived the plunge, though he was seriously injured.

Local media quoted one woman who said that she and two relatives took refuge in the bathroom of their upper floor apartment, and the room apparently constructed more sturdily than the rest of the building plunged intact to near street level. They were able to escape with the help of neighbours.