I often try to forget this date, but this year it’s just been on my mind so vividly…
Nineteen Twenty nine years ago, just shy of six months after my wedding, I was alone in our apartment when the building started shaking. It was so violent, and so long, that clothes hangers fell to the floor, and I couldn’t walk across the room to the door until it was over. The noise the building made was one of the scariest things I’ve experienced.
It was September 19, 1985 in Mexico City, the deadliest and most destructive earthquake the city has seen in its over 700 years history (the current city was built over Tenochtitlán, capital of the Aztec empire, and the valley has been continuously populated since the first Mexica tribes migrated south somewhere in the early 1300s).
Large parts of the city of my birth were nowhere near as lucky. The two most densely inhabited areas of the city suffered the brunt of the quake, with buildings collapsing like accordions and burying thousands of families in a matter of seconds. The city lost about a third of its living space.
The largest conglomerate of hospitals in the country suffered such damage that one in every four available beds were lost. The most technologically advanced hospital in Latin America had to be evacuated, and later on, razed.
The images of devastation in different zones of the city are ingrained in my mind–the smell of people buried under the rubble, so strong as the days and the weeks, and then months went by, so vivid still, almost two decades later.
I was blessed–no one in my family, immediate or extended, was injured or, indeed, suffered any material loses–and I have always felt guilty about it, because the truth is, I don’t know that I have given back a tenth of the good karma that came my way that day.
I don’t remember this every day as vividly as I do today, but I often remember and pray for the thousands of victims of that day, and of the days that followed–particularly those who have never been acknowledged.
To this day the actual death toll is disputed, with the government downplaying the human cost of this tragedy to a ridiculous degree. If you recover five thousand bodies yet have close to forty thousand more people missing, how on earth can you claim that no more than ten thousand people died?