Tempers frayed in Mexico City as the search for survivors amidst twisted rubble of collapsed buildings began to wind down three days after the country’s most deadly earthquake in a generation.
The 7.1 magnitude quake levelled 52 buildings in the sprawling Mexican capital at lunchtime on Tuesday, leaving thousands homeless and close to 300 people dead. Apartment blocks, offices, a school and a textile factory were among the structures that were destroyed.
Across the city, thousands of rescue workers and special teams using sniffer dogs and heat sensors combed wreckage, while the massive outpouring of support from volunteers sparked global praise for Mexico’s spirit.
Efforts were not fast enough, though, for some family members waiting outside an office building that collapsed in the fashionable Roma neighbourhood.
As storm clouds gathered over the city, families worried that rain could slow the pace of rescue efforts.
Protesters held signs addressed to President Enrique Pena Nieto and Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera.
“Mancera and EPN: We demand results” read one sign. “They are still alive. Don’t kill them” and “We don’t want machines” read others, referring to rumours that the military would use bulldozers to hasten removal of rubble deemed unlikely to harbour survivors.
Many sites had already been cleared of rubble by Friday afternoon and chances were dimming of finding anyone else alive.
US rescue workers went to work Friday in the collapsed office building, looking for six people who were still missing.
Mexican soldiers and volunteers, supported by teams from as far afield as Israel and Japan, have so far rescued at least 60 people from the ruins in Mexico City and surrounding towns.
For many the search was highly personal.
Firefighter Teresa Ramirez Flores, 40, was helping search an office building in Mexico City’s Roma neighbourhood where her cousin Carolina Muniz, a 43-year-old accountant, was on the second floor when the building collapsed.
“We want to be superheroes so that our country doesn’t suffer,” she said at a site where volunteers brought a wheelbarrow filled with candy for the rescue teams.
After three days though, rescuers were finding more dead bodies than survivors and frustration was increasingly evident.
Luis Ruiz, a 39-year old carpenter, complained that the police would not let him enter the ruins where his sister and two of her children were buried in the rubble. “I felt powerless to be unable to get my family, unable to do anything,” he said.
Across the city of 20 million people, many whose dwellings had become uninhabitable sought a place to call home, raising the spectre of a housing shortage. Senior officials said there could be 20,000 badly damaged homes in the states of Morelos and Puebla.