MEXICO CITY – With a sense of homesickness for their lost homes and uncertainty about rebuilding them, Mexican families paid tribute on Thursday at the Day of the Dead celebration to the people killed in the Sept. 19 earthquake.
“It’s a day of tradition, but also a day to do visible things for our dead who remain buried under the ruins,” Francia Gutierrez, a member of the Tlalpan Multifamily Assembly, one of the 10 Mexico City apartment buildings that collapsed in the magnitude-7.1 quake, told EFE.
At the base of the pile of rubble and in full public view, the residents of the residential complex gathered to set up the traditional altar to the dead, which this year could not be established in their homes because they have been condemned by the authorities for safety reasons and nobody is allowed to return to them.
The images of the nine people who died in the quake at the apartment complex are displayed on top of the traditional Day of the Dead offering consisting of candy skeletons and skulls, food, beverages, flowers, candles and incense.
During the festivities on the Day of the Dead, which dates back to pre-Hispanic times and is celebrated on Nov. 1-2, the souls of the dead are thought to return from the beyond to enjoy the food and drink they loved in life.
“It’s an embrace of solidarity for those who have given us shelter in the days ... since the earthquake, where more than 500 families are sleeping outside their homes,” said Gutierrez, who has lived in the complex since it was built in 1957.
The Sept. 19 quake completely destroyed one of the buildings and caused minor damage to the rest of the complex, which is currently undergoing a comprehensive review by the authorities to determine how to proceed with reconstruction and when the residents may return to their homes.
While that is going on, the affected families are living in camps, relatives’ or friends’ homes, amid the uncertainty of not knowing how long the reconstruction will take, Ruben de Leon, a resident of one of the evacuated buildings, told EFE.
“I was born in this unit in 1980. My mother was born here. My parents married here, my grandparents came here when it was opened in 1957,” he said.
Retiree Juan Jose Arias, who managed to get out of the collapsed building minutes after the powerful earthquake said that “It makes me feel nostalgic, because I think that I, too, could have been here (under the ruins) but I managed to save myself,” he told EFE as he looked at the photos of his neighbors who lost their lives, including two children who a few hours before the quake had greeted him.
Arias was in his apartment when the temblor struck and the building came down just seconds later, but he and his daughter managed – albeit with difficulty – to extract themselves from the rubble.
“I was pretty banged up,” he said, adding that when he and his daughter emerged from the ruins, they were taken to the hospital.
The quake struck Mexico City and the surrounding states of Mexico, Puebla, Morelos, Guerrero, Oaxaca, killing at least 359 people, 228 of them in the capital, where 38 buildings collapsed.