(MEXICO CITY) — Rescuers on Friday continued to search collapsed buildings in Mexico City, where people may still be buried alive following Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who declared three days of national mourning, has said saving lives is the top priority and search and rescue efforts will be ongoing as long as survivors are believed to be beneath the rubble.
On Thursday, Pena Nieto said search and rescue efforts in Mexico City were ongoing at 38 buildings damaged from the earthquake. But it was unclear Friday how many collapsed buildings may contain survivors.
The 7.1 magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the region engaged in earthquake drills on the 32nd anniversary of a 1985 earthquake that claimed thousands of lives in Mexico. Tuesday’s quake was centered near Raboso in Puebla state, some 75 miles southeast of Mexico City, according to the United States Geological Survey.
The natural disaster caused extensive damage across central Mexico, leveling at least 44 buildings, including homes, schools and office buildings, Pena Nieto said.
In Mexico City alone, more than 1,900 people have been treated in health facilities after the quake and most of them have been discharged, according to Pena Nieto.
The death toll is well over 200, with the majority in the capital, according to the Mexican interior ministry. The number of dead is on the rise as rescuers continue to pull bodies from the piles of debris.
Much of the rescue effort in Mexico City focused on the Enrique Rebsamen primary and secondary school, where officials offered conflicting information on the death toll and whether there were pupils trapped beneath the cinderblock and rebar that once made up a wing of the three-story building.
Rescuers spent days trying to tunnel inside the debris after Mexico’s education minister said multiple students there — including a 12-year-old girl — were still alive within the pancaked piles of concrete slabs.
Then, in a stunning turn of events, Mexico’s deputy minister of information told ABC News on Wednesday afternoon it appeared no children remain trapped inside after cross-referencing all of the names of students and speaking with parents. He couldn’t explain the discrepancy.
Members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department trained and equipped for urban search and rescue missions were deployed to Mexico City on Thursday by the United States Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.
They swept most of the collapsed school with canines and found no signs of life, though the team told ABC News they were only able to access about 75 percent of the rubble.
On Wednesday night, Mexico’s president said 95 percent of electricity had been restored to the nearly 5 million customers in the country who lost power due to the massive earthquake.
Mexico has accepted technical and specialized assistance from many countries, including the United States, Spain, Israel, Japan and several Latin American countries.
“We are all one when it comes to saving a life or helping a victim,” Pena Nieto said.
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