Colima struggles to recover
Relatives, homes, livelihoods lost
Pamela J. Podger, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, January 24, 2003
(01-24) 04:00 PDT Colima, Mexico -- In one moment, Rosa Elena Macias, 66, lost her sister, her house, her store, her future.
Three nieces helped carry the diabetic Macias, clutching her rosary beads for her nightly prayers, from her adobe home into the dirt street Tuesday night as the 7.8-magnitude temblor hit this stately colonial city, about 310 miles west of Mexico City.
She watched as her tiny corner store and her birthplace collapsed, the billowing clouds of dust carrying away her dreams and her sense of security. Then, she heard her 83-year-old sister, Maria, scream once as she was struck on the head by falling debris and killed in her nearby home.
"This is terrible," Macias said in hushed tones Thursday as she relived the drama. "It will take a long time to have my old life back again, if ever."
For 45 seconds, the world buckled and swayed here. The stalwart local residents, who live in the shadow of active Colima Volcano and are accustomed to seismic shakes, say they have jangled nerves and fear strong aftershocks.
Immediately after the intense quake, nurses ran out of the regional hospital with babies, and people spilled into the streets from century-old buildings. At least 21 lives were ended by falling buildings in Colima.
With the death toll at 28, authorities called off further rescue efforts Thursday, saying all bodies and survivors had been retrieved.
However, as many as 10,000 people were left homeless and 300 injured.
Amid the ruins, this was a day for shoveling debris into trucks. The rebuilding effort entered its initial phase as government engineers checked on the safety of cracked buildings and repair crews tended to less ambitious tasks.
Salad and sandwiches - subhead
City relief workers served macaroni salad and ham sandwiches from the backs of pickups to residents in the battered neighborhoods.
Lawyers in the state courthouse were edgy and nervous about working in buildings with hazards still unknown.
Indignation and frustration also began to well up as people faced the harsh prospect of fixing their destroyed homes.
Engineer Ignacio Parra de la Tijera, 34, scanned his almost demolished block, bricks strewn into the road and twisted metal stretching skyward. His home was badly scarred but still standing.
He railed against the National Institute of Anthropology and History for its ban on rebuilding using different materials from the original on any structures over 15 years old in heritage sites like downtown Colima.
"They consider these (adobe) houses as monuments. It is stupid," he said. "Only in Mexico."
The previous day, Soledad Nunez, 34, a neighbor of Macias, had heard President Vicente Fox and local officials promise bricks and mortar for the damaged homes and help for rattled residents. But she was skeptical that it will arrive any time soon.
They promise everything - subhead
"They promise everything but have not given us anything," she said. "They have words, just words -- like always."
At the regional hospital that serves people from the states of Colima, Jalisco and Michoacan, two nurses chatted in the hallway about the ordeal.
Doctors and nurses had worked all night after the earthquake, aiding the 128 wounded people rushed here and trying to save two people who were mortally injured.
By Thursday, a few cracks and loosened ceiling tiles were the only telltale remnants of the temblor.
"I ran around trying to calm the patients," recalled nurse Hilda Mojica, 30.
"We had people trying to get out of bed and run outside."
Another nurse, Judith Ruiz Guizar, 26, described how she, a co-worker and two fathers rushed six premature babies outside. She grabbed milk for the babies and blankets to keep them warm in the night air.
"At that moment, I was afraid because the glass was breaking," she said. "We all ran outside, and covered and protected the babies. Fortunately, we were safe."
Not far away among the tumbled-down homes along Calle Espana, Juana Veltran, 22, and her two kids watched cartoons and munched on sandwiches.
Sleeping in the garden - subhead
Veltran said the family has moved their beds into the back garden since their front room was badly weakened by the quake. Her husband, an auto mechanic, spent the day searching for another home to rent.
"This place is too dangerous," she said. "But it is hard to find another home that we can afford, and there is a lot of competition."
Cesar Nabarro, a 24-year-old homeowner, was angry. For five years he had waited for a city permit so he could reinforce his adobe home. Now, its corners have split apart, and the repairs will be costly.
"Around here, you cannot touch your house because the officials consider it part of the past," he said. "But in this condition now, I expect they will give me a permit."
The quake relief effort also branched out into the countryside on Thursday as military trucks rumbled along dirt roads lined with towering coconut palm trees and acres of lush citrus orchards, headed for rural villages.
One of the hardest hit places was Coquimatlan, 10 miles from Colima. Dazed residents loaded furniture, plastic laundry baskets full of clothes, blankets and food, and appliances into trucks.
Many headed to one of six temporary shelters set up by the government at schools or moved in with family members whose homes had not suffered as much damage.
treets full of debris
Coquimatlan's cobblestone streets were filled both with debris from collapsed structures and fallen oranges shaken from the numerous citrus trees by the quake. Many side streets where entire buildings had fallen were blocked off by police lines.
Family and friends of Juan Calvario Garcia, 73, who died when his home caved in on him, gathered around his white coffin in a covered plaza to the left of the cathedral in the center square.
The church sustained so much damage in the earthquake -- its bell tower toppled into a neighboring basketball court, and huge cracks ran through the ceiling in the nave -- that it would have been unsafe to hold Garcia's funeral there.
Other damaged structures in the outlying areas included factories that process the state's exports -- coconuts and limes -- into sugared candies and juices.
At Citrojugo, a citrus factory in Tecoman, 25 miles from Colima, half a dozen two-story cylindrical containers toppled over. A murky liquid with a pungent odor that burned the lungs -- which many residents said was ammonia -- leaked from the cracked silos and flooded the dirt road outside.
As the midday sun beat down back in Colima, Nunez and Macias hugged, their destroyed homes kitty-corner from where they were standing. Gone is the shop where Macias sold Chiclets, sodas, soap and beer for 20 years.
Nunez felt her neighbor's grief deeply, saying: "She lost her house, her livelihood. Now she has nothing and is alone."
But she was sure that Colimans would pull together. "We are very united in this neighborhood, and what happened to her happened to all of us."
Chronicle correspondent Renee Huang contributed to this story. / E-mail Pamela J. Podger at firstname.lastname@example.org.