Sunday, May 27

Mexico earthquakes affect students, UCLA community volunteers to help


Joanna Sanchez-Nunez, a fourth-year civil and environmental engineering student who visited Mexico City after the earthquake, said signs of the earthquake remained days after it happened. (Courtesy of Joanna Sanchez-Nunez)

Joanna Sanchez-Nunez, a fourth-year civil and environmental engineering student who visited Mexico City after the earthquake, said signs of the earthquake remained days after it happened. (Courtesy of Joanna Sanchez-Nunez)


Joanna Sanchez-Nunez could not have known an earthquake would strike three days before she and her parents planned to visit their family in Mexico City.

Sanchez-Nunez, a fourth-year civil and environmental engineering student, said she and her parents initially hesitated to visit the city after the earthquake but decided to continue with their trip and check in on their family members.

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake near Puebla, Mexico on Sept. 19 killed more than 300 people and injured more than 4,600 in the Puebla and Morelos states. According to The New York Times, the earthquake also damaged about 4,000 buildings in Mexico City.

The Sept. 19 earthquake occurred after an even bigger earthquake struck southern Mexico a couple of weeks before. A magnitude 8.2 earthquake struck off the coast of the state of Chiapas in the far south of Mexico on Sept. 7, killing about 100 people and damaging 41,000 homes. A magnitude 6.1 aftershock hit the southern state of Oaxaca on Saturday.

Some UCLA students heard about the destruction around the country from friends and family, while others saw the aftermath for themselves.

Karla Fernanda Escobedo, a first-year undeclared student, said her family experienced the Sept. 19 earthquake firsthand but did not sustain any injuries. She added she was originally worried about her grandmother, whom she did not hear from until a day after the earthquake, because she did not have a phone.

Escobedo also said the earthquake reminded many of her family members of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. The earthquake damaged or destroyed about 3,500 buildings, and estimates of casualties range from 2,000 to 40,000.

“(The most recent earthquake) was a really hard time because there was no way for us to travel to go see them,” she added. “I personally feel really powerless because there isn’t much I could do to give strength to my family and help out my hometown.”

Sanchez-Nunez said she had cousins and an aunt in Mexico City who managed to safely get out of the buildings they were in. Her aunt said during the earthquake, she felt like she was being jerked around and saw cars bouncing on the street.

Sanchez-Nunez also has a cousin in the second grade who attended Enrique Rebsamen elementary school, which collapsed.

“My cousin was one of five that survived from his second grade class,” Sanchez-Nunez said. “He is currently sleeping in the car at night because he is scared that his house will collapse.”

She added bridges connecting buildings at her other cousins’ high school collapsed, and walls of the buildings cracked.

“They are still waiting to hear back about when they can go into the campus to retrieve their backpacks and belongings that they left behind when they ran out,” she said. “The school administrators are now trying to decide if classes should be held online or if the students should be sent to other campuses, about one to two hours away.”

Sanchez-Nunez also said signs of the earthquake remained days after it happened.

“The city looks normal for the most part, but every once in awhile you’ll see a building that collapsed and the rubble is still there,” Sanchez-Nunez said. “(Some) apartment buildings are gated off because there are cracks all around them and so have been claimed not safe.”

Myla Edmond, spokesperson for the UC Education Abroad Program, said in an email that all UCEAP students in Mexico were accounted for. She added that for safety reasons, UCEAP does not comment on how many students are in any given location at a specific point in time.

The UC also maintains Casa de la Universidad de California en México, a campus in Mexico City which houses the UCEAP in Mexico and serves as a meeting place for UC affiliates and alumni.

UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email the center suffered some structural, mostly superficial, damage from the earthquakes, but added everyone living and working on the campus is safe.

She added the center is helping local universities with damaged campuses by accommodating their classes and other activities.

Twenty-five UCLA students, faculty and staff collected food, clothing and cash to send to Mexico on Saturday as part of an event organized by Mexicanos at UCLA, a social support group for Mexican undergraduate and graduate students.

Volunteers packed 48 boxes of canned goods, hygiene products, baby products and medical supplies, among other items, to send directly to individuals affected by the earthquake in Puebla.

Mariana Barragan, an education doctoral student who participated in the event, said the Mexican community in West Los Angeles and UCLA was not sure how to help those affected by the earthquakes, so they coordinated with local Mexican organizations who had more experience.

She added it was painful for her and other Mexicans at UCLA to see the cities where they used to live in ruins, but said the UCLA community has helped support the recovery effort.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from the UCLA community,” Barragan said. “From people in maintenance, to administrative personnel, to students, all stopped by to contribute.”

Paavo Monkkonen, an associate professor of urban planning at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, said he thinks many Californians want to help and show solidarity with those affected by the earthquakes because of the state’s shared history and border with Mexico.

“Los Angeles will have a big earthquake soon, so we should be united (with) others affected by earthquakes, if nothing else,” Monkkonen added.

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