Search and rescue team travel to Mexico finding hope within destruction

By Kent G. Alexander

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Alexander and his search and rescue dog Marco went to the site of the Manzillo earthquake on Oct. 14 at the request of the Mexican government. The following is a firsthand account of his experience there.

A faint whimper could be heard

through several tons of concrete,

brick and steel girders. At first, the cry sounded more like the pain of a small puppy. But it wasn't. It was a baby.

Good sense and logic contradicted that anyone, much less an infant, could have survived for six days amid such a disaster as the earthquake that shook Manzanillo for two straight minutes. But, we had found the only surviving infant.

The Manzanillo quake measured 7.6 on the Richter scale and left hundreds of damaged or demolished buildings. Schools, houses, hospitals, businesses, roads and utility services were seriously damaged.

The only known quakes of greater magnitude in the area took place in 1932 (8.2 on the Richter scale) and in 1985 when an 8.1 quake claimed 6,000 lives in Mexico City.

My search and rescue K-9, Marco,

and I had been called to

Manzanillo to search for quake victims by the office of the governor a day after it hit the coastal states of Colima and Jalisco. More than 100 people died in the Manzanillo quake.

Governor Carlos de La Madrid of Colima called for Marco because he had heard about Marco's work in the Guadalajara disaster. He was also a part of the federal anti-drug canine corps based in Mexico City and Uruapan, Michoacan.

Marco is a 6-year-old Belgian Malinois and is often mistaken for a German Shepard. He sniffs out drugs, arms, currency and cadavers and is trained in search and rescue.

After two days of frantic fund-raising in Tucson to finance the mission, we arrived in Mexico City only to learn all flights into the disaster area had been canceled due to runway damage. Tucson charities, individuals and discounts from Aeromexico helped pay expenses.

In Mexico City, a reporter for the Dallas Morning News and I telephoned the offices of the president and attorney general, looking for transportation.

When our efforts to receive government assistance failed, Marco and I boarded a bus for Manzanillo. I spent the trip talking with Jose Valdez, a Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico seismology student.

"We don't have many opportunities to study actual quake damage from a 7.6 sismo," Valdez said. "What makes Manzanillo interesting is the frequency of the quakes not little tremblers but heavy 7.5 and 7.6 quakes with epicenters so close. I think there is some dangerous plate activity off the coast, and we might have a big one 8.0 or 9.0 on the Richter scale before the end of the year.

"Any earthquake over 7.0 is dangerous, especially in Mexico because many cities are built on sand which acts like water in an earthquake," Valdez said.

Susan Beck, a UA seismologist, agrees but said she would exercise more caution in the area of predicting earthquakes.

"Predicting earthquakes is something we simply do not get involved with," she says, "because there is no known scientific way to make a prediction. However, the two recent quakes in Mexico are extremely interesting and indicate a lot of activity."

After

checking

into the Hotel Marbella, Marco and I rushed to the site of the Hotel Costa Real. Upon our arrival, we were met by five or six state police officers with machine guns over their shoulders. They told me the search was over and that I would have to leave the area. In the distance and beyond the rubble, I saw two Japanese dog handlers with their Aikitas. I asked the agents about them, and they told me they had already searched and found no more bodies.

I showed the officers Marco's federal identification, then pulled-off my jacket. Underneath I was wearing my Federal Judicial Police shirt. I then produced my badge from the Federal Attorney General's office.

They immediately called their commandante on a radio and was quickly told not to try to stop us.

Within 10 minutes, Marco found seven undiscovered victims in the rubble where there were not supposed to be any bodies.

Mexico does not have formal disaster plans nor stores of supplies for survivors.

When Marco and I work in Mexico, we take everything from trauma packs to cans of beans and sleeping bags yes, Marco has his own rucksack and saddle bags used to carry his food.

We

searched

for victims in Manzanillo for two more days and found a total of 23 bodies. The majority of the bodies were in two small villages Santiago and Salagua. These villages sit away from the highway, so the earthquake destruction was not readily visible.

In the two days we worked those areas, we did not see a policeman, fireman or military person assisting the population. The villagers or neighbors searched through the rubble and carried the victims away in the back of old Chevrolet trucks.

Santiago resident Luis Gorje Losa told me that his entire family was missing. A search of his house was negative. The search for Losa's family would not be easy because there were no facilities to process survivors nor provide shelter and food.

Pedro Lopez de La Mora stopped our cab and asked, "Can you please ask Marco if he could help find my two children." Because his house was small, the dead children were found in the kitchen area in a few minutes. Lopez de La Mora was crying in the street as

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