The IDF said Wednesday that the delegation sent to Mexico to help find victims buried under rubble from a devastating earthquake was returning to Israel.
The team was scheduled to arrive back in the country on Thursday, the army said in a statement.
They ended their time in the central American country with a ceremony at which they were thanked for their search and rescue operation and recovery efforts following a 7.1-magnitude quake on September 19 that killed over 300 people and collapsed buildings all over Mexico City.
During their time in Mexico the team engaged in efforts to find trapped survivors, locate missing people. The team also surveyed 158 buildings including hospitals, schools, kindergartens, and government offices to find whether they remained structurally sound after the quake, the statement said.
The Israeli delegation was one of the first foreign groups to arrive in Mexico City, touching down on September 21.
The Mexican government, which had requested Israeli assistance, specified two areas in which it needed help: search and rescue operations alongside local authorities, and mapping of the city’s buildings to determine which were structurally sound and which would need to be demolished.
The delegation was made up of 71 soldiers, mostly reservists, from the army’s Home Front Command. Approximately half were engineers, while the rest came from search and rescue, logistics and medical units. It was led by Col. Dudi Mizrachi.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on the phone from Mexico, Col. (res.) Gili Shenhar said the delegation reached Mexico in “record time,” arriving in the country less than 48 hours after the initial earthquake.
The IDF delegation focused only on Mexico City, a sprawling “mega city” home to some 9 million people, with a total of 21 million living in the metropolitan area, Shenhar said.
The Mexican capital was one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake, but the IDF colonel said most of the city was largely “up and running” as of Sunday. Electricity, water, public transportation services have returned to most of the city, and the international airport also reopened.
While the search-and-rescue operation was perhaps the more eye-catching aspect of the delegation’s mission, its primary mission was to help local officials assess the structural integrity of Mexico City’s buildings.
Most of the city’s structures were unharmed, but others will need reconstructive work to make them safe again and a smaller number will need to be torn down entirely and rebuilt, Shenhar said.
Authorities on Wednesday raised the death toll in the qauke to 338.
National Civil Defense chief Luis Felipe Puente reported on Twitter that the dead included 199 in Mexico City.
He said there were also 74 in Morelos state, 45 in Puebla state, 13 in the State of Mexico, six in Guerrero state and one in Oaxaca state.
The quake collapsed at least 38 buildings in the capital, and search efforts were continuing at some sites.
It followed the even stronger earthquake less than two weeks earlier off the country’s southern Pacific coast that especially hit Chiapas and Oaxaca. That one killed nearly 100 people.
President Enrique Pena Nieto said Wednesday that preliminary accounting of the damage caused by the two earthquakes could cost upward of $2 billion.
Pena Nieto stressed that damage assessments were continuing, especially in hard-hit Mexico City. But preliminary estimates put repairing and rebuilding schools in several states and the capital at nearly $750 million.
Repairing and rebuilding homes will be $550 million. Damage to cultural sites could reach $440 million.
The government is making direct electronic transfers to victims of a magnitude 8.1 earthquake and aftershocks in Chiapas and Oaxaca to the tune of $356 million so they can begin repairing their homes.
“I hope that in the new year we will be able to have also a new Mexico, rebuilt and in normal conditions,” Pena Nieto said.