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Mexican bishop, Caritas staffer say situation serious, complicated after quake

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MEXICO CITY — A Catholic bishop and a Caritas worker in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious after the Sept. 19 earthquake, and much aid would be needed.

“The situation is complicated, because the first earthquake (Sept. 7) had already affected thousands of people in Chiapas and Oaxaca,” Alberto Arciniega, head of communications for Caritas Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 20. “The church is continuing to assist those dioceses, but with what happened yesterday, the emergency situation is being re-evaluated to get a more exact assessment of the aid that is needed.”

People mourn Sept. 20 near caskets containing the bodies of victims who died after the roof of a church in Atzala, Mexico, collapsed in the Sept. 19 earthquake. (CNS photo/Imelda Medina, Reuters)

The Vatican announced Sept. 21 that, through the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, Pope Francis is sending an initial $150,000 to aid Mexico. Money will be distributed by the nuncio to dioceses most affected.

Arciniega said all the dioceses in Mexico were collecting food, water and other necessities for victims of the quakes. He said they were seeking economic support from inside and outside the country.

“We know it is a serious situation, and international aid is being requested,” Arciniega told Catholic News Service.

“Rehabilitation and reconstruction will take time and will be expensive,” he added. “Thousands of people have been left homeless, and many churches have been damaged.”

The magnitude 7.1 quake that hit Sept. 19 was not as strong as the earlier magnitude 8.1 quake, but the second quake was centered in Puebla state, just southeast of Mexico City, as opposed to in the Pacific Ocean. Arciniega said Puebla and Morelos states and Mexico City were worst hit in the second quake, which killed more than 230 people.

In Morelos, just to the south of Mexico City, damage was widespread. Gov. Graco Ramirez put the death toll at 73.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has visited the municipality of Jujutla, where houses were reduced to rubble.

Oscar Cruz, spokesman for the Diocese of Cuernavaca, based in the Morelos state capital, said “the damage is worse … in many towns that are even poorer.”

At least 89 parishes in Morelos state suffered damage or were destroyed, according the National History and Anthropology Institute, which is responsible for Mexico’s older churches. The Cuernavaca cathedral, which dates to the 1500s and been undergoing restoration activities, also suffered damage and parts of it cannot be used, Cruz said.

Parish residences also were damaged, leaving priests homeless, Cruz said. A pair of priests were injured by falling debris; one was still hospitalized Sept. 21.

The diocese has started collecting goods for those left homeless.

“People have been extraordinary,” Cruz said. “This has been an extraordinary moment of solidarity. People are coming out and saying, ‘I want to help.’”

Bishop Ramon Castro of Cuernavaca has been touring the hardest-hit towns of Morelos. The bishop and the state governor had been at odds in recent years of social policies promoted by the governor and the bishop’s refusal to stop condemning violence and corruption in the state.

The pair have put aside their differences in the wake of such a disaster, Cruz said.

“There’s no working together” on the relief effort, “but we’re not getting in each other’s way,” Cruz said.

Mostly, priests and the bishop “have been trying to be close to the people,” he added.

Earlier, Arciniega shared audio of an interview with Bishop Castro, who noted that parishes in his diocese had been collecting items to send to victims of the Sept. 7 earthquake in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Now those items, if they were not destroyed in the Sept. 19 quake, will be used locally, the bishop said, adding, “but it will not be enough.”

Arciniega was in Oaxaca when he spoke Sept. 20. He said the Sept. 19 earthquake was felt there, but apparently did not cause damage.

“People (in the south) are worried that the assistance will stop because the cameras and newscasts are focusing on Mexico City. There is fear that the aid will stop and the emphasis will be on the center of the country,” he said.

He added that it was raining in Tehuantepec, an area of Oaxaca damaged in the first earthquake, which killed nearly 100 people.

“That makes the housing situation more complicated. Not only did people’s homes collapse, but now it’s raining, so people are in shelters, they need food. They are setting up community kitchens. We are continuing to evaluate how much the diocese can do to help itself and requesting aid from other dioceses and from outside the country.”

     

Contributing to this story were David Agren in Mexico City; Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru; and Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.

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Mexicans pitch in to help after earthquake

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Catholic News Service

MEXICO CITY — Mexican church leaders offered prayers and urged generosity after an earthquake struck the national capital and its environs, claiming more than 240 lives, including at least 20 children trapped in a collapsed school.

Rescue personnel remove rubble Sept. 20 at a collapsed building while searching for survivors after an earthquake hit Mexico City. The magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit Sept. 19 to the southeast of the city, killing hundreds. (CNS photo/Claudia Daut, Reuters)

The U.S. bishops joined them in prayer, asking for the protection of “Our Lady of Guadalupe, comforter of the afflicted and mother most merciful.”

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake Sept. 19 added to the misery of Mexicans who suffered a magnitude 8.1 earthquake 12 days earlier. That quake left nearly 100 dead in the country’s southern states and left thousands more homeless.

“We join the pain and grief of the victims of the earthquake, which occurred today … in various parts of our country,” the Mexican bishops’ conference said in a Sept. 19 statement. “Today, more than ever, we invite the community of God to join in solidarity for our brothers who are suffering various calamities that have struck our country.”

Mexicans have responded to the earthquake with acts of solidarity. The telephone system was overwhelmed and traffic snarled as power outages affected traffic lights. In hard-hit neighborhoods, people poured in, armed with buckets and shovels to help clear rubble from collapsed buildings, where people were trapped. Others were quick to donate food and drink to those assisting.

“Once again we are witnesses to the people of Mexico’s solidarity,” the bishops’ statement said. “Thousands of hands have formed chains of life to rescue, feed or do their small part in the face of these emergencies.”

Caritas chapters across the country opened collection centers to help those harmed by the earthquake. In Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera asked all parishes in the impacted areas, along with priests religious and laity to “collaborate with the authorities in order to assist people that have been affected and show Christian solidarity,” said an article published in archdiocesan newspaper Desde la Fe.

Dioceses in Puebla and Morelos, south of the capital, reported widespread damage to churches. Caritas Mexico, the church’s aid organization, reported at least 42 people dead in Morelos and 13 deaths in Puebla, where a dozen churches also collapsed.

Damage was widespread in parts of Mexico City, where at least 27 buildings collapsed, said President Enrique Pena Nieto.

A private school collapsed in Mexico City, trapping students ranging from kindergarten to junior high school. The Associated Press reported at least 25 students and teachers died, with others remaining unaccounted for.

As often happens in disasters, authorities expected the death toll to rise, because people could have been trapped in buildings when they collapsed.

At his general audience Sept. 20, Pope Francis prayed for victims and rescue personnel, invoking Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of Mexico.

“In this moment of suffering,” he said, “I want to express my closeness and prayers to the entire Mexican population.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City expressed his sympathy to the relatives of those who had lost loved ones in the earthquake. He urged parishes, religious and the lay faithful to work with government authorities to “aid people who have been affected and demonstrate Christian solidarity.”

The quake epicenter was in Puebla, southeast of Mexico City. Earthquakes usually affect Mexico City as much of it is built on a former lake bed and buildings sway in the soft soil, even though the epicenters are in distant states. That phenomenon allows an earthquake warning to sound, giving people approximately a minute to evacuate their buildings. The alarm did not sound Sept. 19, however.

“It totally frightened me,” said Pedro Anaya, a small-business owner.

He decided to help, joining the hundreds of people hauling away debris from a collapsed apartment building in the trendy Condesa neighborhood.

“I saw that my family was OK so I came to help,” he said.

     

Contributing to this story was Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru.

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