Israel said it will dispatch aid to Mexico following a devastating earthquake that shook the center of the country, collapsing buildings and killing at least 149 people.
Dozens of buildings tumbled into mounds of rubble or were severely damaged in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby states. Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said buildings fell at 44 places in the capital alone as high-rises across the city swayed sickeningly.
Hours after the magnitude 7.1 quake, rescue workers were still clawing through the wreckage of a primary school that partly collapsed in the city’s south looking for any children who might be trapped. Some relatives said they had received Whatsapp message from two girls inside.
Luis Felipe Puente, head of the national Civil Defense agency, reported Tuesday night that the confirmed death toll had been raised to 149.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Mexico had asked Israel for aid after Netanyahu offered help.
“Netanyahu ordered that aid and a search and rescue operation be organized to leave to Mexico as soon as possible,” his office said late Tuesday.
Diplomats in Mexico were in touch with local officials to find out what exactly Mexico needed.
Netanyahu earlier said Israel’s “heart” was with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and the rest of the country, as his plane idled before taking off to Israel following a 10-day trip to Latin America and New York.
Netanyahu made his first trip as prime minister to Mexico last week, meeting with Pena Nieto and offering reconstruction aid following an earthquake that killed 91 people in southern Mexico earlier this month.
Israel has in recent years sent search and rescue teams to Italy and Nepal after devastating earthquakes there.
Tuesday’s quake was the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 quake on the same date killed thousands.
Felipe Puente, the Civil Defense head, said in a tweet said 55 people died in Morelos state, just south of Mexico City, while 49 died in the capital and 32 were killed in nearby Puebla state, where the quake was centered. Ten people died in the State of Mexico, which surrounds Mexico City on three sides, and three were killed in Guerrero state, he said.
The count did not include one death that officials in the southern state of Oaxaca reported earlier as quake-related.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it did not know of any Israelis injured in the quake. A message on the Israeli Embassy’s Facebook page asked Israelis in Mexico needing help to contact an emergency operations room.
The federal government declared a state of disaster in Mexico City, freeing up emergency funds. Pena Nieto said he had ordered all hospitals to open their doors to the injured.
Mancera, the Mexico City mayor, said 50 to 60 people were rescued alive by citizens and emergency workers in the capital. Authorities said at least 70 people in the capital had been hospitalized for injuries.
The federal interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, said authorities had reports of people possibly still being trapped in collapsed buildings. He said search efforts were slow because of the fragility of rubble.
“It has to be done very carefully,” he said. And “time is against us.”
At one site, reporters saw onlookers cheer as a woman was pulled from the rubble. Rescuers immediately called for silence so they could listen for others who might be trapped.
Mariana Morales, a 26-year-old nutritionist, was one of many who spontaneously participated in rescue efforts.
She wore a paper face mask and her hands were still dusty from having joined a rescue brigade to clear rubble from a building that fell in a cloud of dust before her eyes, about 15 minutes after the quake.
Morales said she was in a taxi when the quake struck, and she got out and sat on a sidewalk to try to recover from the scare. Then, just a few yards away, the three-story building fell.
A dust-covered Carlos Mendoza, 30, said that he and other volunteers had been able to pull two people alive from the ruins of a collapsed apartment building after three hours of effort.
“We saw this and came to help,” he said. “It’s ugly, very ugly.”