The Voices Of An Earthquake: Alma, The Survivor Who Made It Out Of The Rubble

On September 19th 2017, Alma’s building collapsed during Mexico’s earthquake: nine people perished in the same place where she came out as a survivor. Though it took nine hours for her to be rescued, it’s taken her months overcome the trauma.

Alma Guadalupe Nava is a survivor of the earthquake that shook Mexico on September 19th, 2017. Almost a year after being trapped within the collapsed building that used to be in the south of Mexico City, she's still recovering from the emotional and psychological scars.

Picture by itsalonsogp

Multifamiliar Tlalpan

Before being interviewed, Alma states that whenever she recounts what happened to her that day, she has nightmares of what she went through, and that in each and every dream she brings back more and more detailed memories of that moment when she was trapped under the remains of what used to be her home.

“I'd just gotten out of the shower when the earth started to move... And then it got stronger. Suddenly, the roof fell down on me. I was trapped beneath it and I couldn’t move anymore.”

Five adults and five children passed away in building 1-C.

Multifamiliar Tlalpan is one of the many affected areas that were destroyed by the earthquake. C-1, one of ten buildings in the housing complex, collapsed into less than twenty percent of its size. Nine people died there, and eighteen were successfully rescued; one of them is Alma.

“I was trapped for two hours and a half. The first minutes after getting trapped in the rubble, I heard someone saying that a man jumped out of the building with his daughter. Later, I could hear someone trying to climb on top of the roof where the kitchen was. I heard something collapsed and then gas started to leak. I was terrified. I thought I was going to be blown up over there.”

Alma used to live on the fifth floor, so the roof of her apartment was easily exposed. This made it easier for the police and volunteers to help; she was rescued because two police officers made a hole on top of the roof.

Time Under The Debris

The walls had crumbled and the roof was pushing her head down. Yet, she thought her building was still standing and that her apartment had only suffered some damages. However, what she imagined was far from the truth. Five floors of the building had been compressed into the dimension of little more than one single floor.

“I could not understand what had happened. I was saying to myself: 'this is one floor and a half. What happened was terrible.' I was frightened. My body was shaking. I wanted to run away from there.”

Alma was rescued by two police officers who assisted her and took her to the nearest hospital. After that, she recovered at her in-laws'.

She recovered from the injuries on her back and leg at her in-laws'. Studying, keeping calm, and thinking about how to set an example for her children are the things that pushed her to try to overcome the trauma. She also highlights that the help of Jorge, her husband, with whom she’d lived for six months before September 19th, has been fundamental as he supports her and keeps her company.

After the earthquake...

The tributes to the victims of the earthquake, the speeches by the authorities, and the minutes of silence don't mean anything to her. She suggests that we should teach people about how to react when an earthquake happens.

“There have been earthquakes in Mexico since forever, but now, I see them in a different way... I don’t know. We need to teach children and adults what to do: where to stand and where not to when it starts shaking. To run away is not an option; it’s rather counterproductive. My neighbors who passed away in this building where the ones who ran down the stairs when the quake happened.”

Her husband, Jorge, doesn't ask for people to help Alma; he knows he can help her and give her what she needs. Nonetheless, he asks the administration of Mexico City, the one in charge of permits and regulation for construction companies, to pay the companies that are rebuilding the houses and apartments that were damaged or torn down during the earthquake.

“Sometimes money stops coming, and building companies stop the reconstruction process. Supposedly, this should be ready next year, but if they keep holding back the process because of lack of money, these houses won’t be made on time.”

Translated by Hugo Márquez


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