Karen and I are in Mexico City this week for two reasons. Karen lived here for fourteen years and she had not been back for four years and needed to visit. We realized she had moved here only three years after the Earthquake (El terremoto) of 1985. With the benefit of her hindsight and in light of our experiences in New Orleans post-Katrina, we are examining issues surrounding how the city has rebounded and talking to people about their experiences. We are also learning from local preservationists about the state of preservation in Mexico City today.
El torremento hit Mexico City’s dense, old inner city district where many of the buildings housing governmental and utitily agencies were located. This centralization and the subsequent destruction crippled the city’s ability to restore services. Just as in the case of New Orleans, much was left to the citizenry to handle on the ground who organized immediately. It raises the question, “Can a government ever be prepared for such a disaster?”
This is a great article describing the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.The article is machine translated and should be read with a maleable consideration of the vocabulary.
As we learn more we are finding parallel conversations to our own situation in New Orleans. Immediately after the earthquake, problems of looting, corruption by the police, authorities prevented rescue and the flow of supplies, people trying to help were locked out. Later the issues of corruption by government officials and contractors surfaced. The low density apartments faired better but even on the radio today we heard a discussion regarding the push by developers for more high density development.
In 2005, citizens were finding that they still cannot get clear answers on seismic risks and citizens are demanding that this information be released in order to include it in the current plans for rebuilding. The government claims they do not want to provide the information at the risk of causing “fear and social disorder”.
For many many many years the hard-hit, main districts remained a mess, as Karen observed when she arrived three years later. Now, it seems the entire el centre historico is experiencing an economic renaissance. In one conversation, we questioned the construction of very tall skyscrapers in an earthquake prone area. We were told that they suspect that a government official is behind the construction of the largest of these skyscrapers.
The first day we visited the site of a building which remains a pile of rubble in Chihuahua St. around the corner from our apartment in the Roma neighborhood. The site has been stuck in a legal vortex and recently a sign was posted on the site indicating it is in expropriation. This, some 22 years later.
Karen spoke to a woman who had lived in a building on this block during the quake. She said there are now squatters (actually, pot heads) living in the rubble. There were at least four feral cats chasing and screeching about the pile while we were there. We have dubbed the site. ‘Cat Mountain’.
Many of the buildings which suffered the worst devastation in Mexico City were ones that were constructed by the government. After the disaster, angry citizens began to demand that these buildings be built to stricter codes for sustaining earthquakes. Similar to the situation with New Orleans’ flood control system, it has been a fight for bureaucratic accountability. Another similar result of the Earthquake has been a permament active solidarity among the citizenry.
This week we saw a large protest of workers against government corruption. The chant being that, “The Senate doesn’t see and they don’t hear us.”
Maybe we need more underwear rebellions and fewer meetings.