Humanitarian agencies respond to Mexico's powerful quake

Written by Mason Booth, Staff Writer,
As Mexican residents experience the emotional aftershocks of Tuesday's (Jan. 21) powerful earthquake, preliminary damage reports are bearing witness to the disaster's brutality. According to initial estimates, the 7.6-magnitude quake killed at least 23 people, injured more than 160 others, damaged dozens of homes and caused widespread power outages.

With needs assessments ongoing, humanitarian agencies around the world are poised to provide any aid requested by the local emergency relief community.

The massive quake struck just off the coast of Colima in west-central Mexico at 8:06 p.m. local time (9:06 p.m. EST). The US Geological Survey initially reported a magnitude of 7.3 but revised the number after additional calculations, increasing the level to a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The National Seismological Center in Mexico City calculated a slightly lower magnitude of 7.6.

While the two seismological centers differ on the exact strength of the temblor, both stressed that any earthquake above a 7.0-magnitude is capable of extensive devastation, and Tuesday's was no exception.

The quake sent panicked residents in the states of Colima, Michoacan and Jalisco spilling into the streets, caused mass power outages and triggered heavy landslides. According to eyewitnesses, the rattle lasted less than a minute, but was strong enough to sway buildings in Mexico City, more than 300 miles away from the quake's epicenter.

Colima Gov. Fernando Moreno Pena said 19 people were killed in the quake, nine in the capital city of Colima and 10 others elsewhere in his state, and dozens were injured.

In neighboring Jalisco state, civil defense authorities reported two deaths in the town of Zapotitlan, including that of a one-year-old infant. In Guadalajara, Jalisco's capital and Mexico's second-largest city, authorities said the earthquake destroyed at least 40 homes, leaving more than 100 people homeless.

Humanitarian Relief Rushed to Affected Regions

The Mexican Red Cross was one of the first responders to the disaster, and immediately coordinated its relief effort with local authorities to provide triage, medical and nursing services, and psycho-social services, including mental health counseling for traumatized residents. Meanwhile, its "Collapsed Buildings Search and Rescue" Brigade dispatched 50 teams Tuesday evening to Colima from Mexico City and the Jalisco State branch to assist with search and rescue, damage assessment and logistic needs evaluation.

The local force of the Mexican Red Cross consists of 140 volunteers, 2 search dogs, 16 ambulances, 4 urban rescue units and 2 specialty units.

"The Mexican Red Cross has an excellent capacity for disaster relief, with a very strong volunteer base, and were prepared to respond," said Lesley Schaffer, international disaster operations manager for the American Red Cross. "However, as the operation unfolds, they made need assistance from other agencies in the form of financial or material resources."

To support the neighboring Red Cross society's response, a regional delegate from the American Red Cross International Disaster Response Unit (IDRU) has been deployed to Mexico City from the Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU). PADRU is a team of disaster experts, organized by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (the organizing branch of the worldwide Red Cross) and located in the region because of the high tolls disasters take on Central America and the Caribbean.

Meanwhile, an American Red Cross staff member already stationed Mexico is accompanying the Mexican Red Cross team to assist in damage assessments in the affected areas.

"The American Red Cross has been active in Mexico for decades, carrying out relief and rehabilitation programs following several major disasters, including the 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck in 1985," said Schaffer. "Right now, our role is to help in any way determined by the Mexican society, which could potentially include providing them with some of our supplies pre-positioned in the area."

The beneficial relationship between the two Red Cross societies is based on reciprocity manifested over the years.

"Their organization has shown on several occasions their capacity and willingness to help the American Red Cross following our large-scale disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch and the attacks of September 11, and we try to do the same for them," Schaffer said.

How You Can Help

The International Response Fund allows the American Red Cross to respond to people's needs around the globe -- from sudden onset disasters to conflict situations and long-term humanitarian crises affecting health, sanitation, displacement of people, and the availability of safe and adequate supplies of food and water. Supporting the International Response Fund ensures that the American Red Cross response can be immediate, regardless of the type of crisis or its location.

You can help those affected by this crisis and countless others around the world each year by making a financial gift to the American Red Cross International Response Fund, which will provide immediate and long-term support through supplies, technical assistance, and other support to those in need. Call 1-800-HELP NOW or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Donations can also be mailed to your local Red Cross chapter or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013.


American Red Cross
All American Red Cross disaster assistance is provided at no cost, made possible by voluntary donations of time and money from the American people. The Red Cross also supplies nearly half of the nation's lifesaving blood. This, too, is made possible by generous voluntary donations. To help the victims of disaster, you may make a secure online credit card donation or call 1-800-HELP NOW (1-800-435-7669) or 1-800-257-7575 (Spanish). Or you may send your donation to your local Red Cross or to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, D.C. 20013. To donate blood, please call 1-800-GIVE-LIFE (1-800-448-3543), or contact your local Red Cross to find out about upcoming blood drives. © Copyright, The American National Red Cross. All Rights Reserved.