Mexico turns energies to survivors, rebuilding

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Five days after two devastating earthquakes, Mexican energies have turned from rescue efforts to caring for survivors and reconstruction of downtown districts. Despite the nation's severe economic recession, Mexicans of all income levels have donated clothing, food, medicine, time, and energy to aid with the relief and rescue effort.

``I can assure you many people have given away much of what they've got,'' Jorge Urquiza, coordinator of shelters for the Red Cross, said in an interview.

``There has been a tremendous outpouring of solidarity,'' said Mexican Minister of Tourism Antonio Enr'iquez Savignac at a press conference Monday in New York.

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However, reports from Mexico indicate looting and profiteering after the earthquakes.

[Parts of the city center were returning to a degree of normality Monday, Reuters reports. A few shops and business reopened, although the majority stayed closed. Radio stations passed on messages from firms to employees to stay away from work for the time being.]

Most neighborhoods have water and electricity, though services remain spotty in the damaged areas. There, many residents are getting water in buckets from water trucks and electricity remains cut off.

Mr. Enr'iquez Savignac emphasized that Mexico City ``is not a devastated city.'' Only a relatively small portion of the sprawling capital -- 48 square miles, all in the downtown area -- was seriously damaged, he said. Some 700 buildings have been seriously damaged, he added.

The long-run economic impact of the earthquake will be heavy, said Enr'iquez Savignac. ``However, it is pointless to speculate about the exact cost at this early date.''

Mexican Cabinet ministers have been meeting in Mexico City to readjust the priorities of existing budgets. Before Thursday's earthquake, government ministries were in the midst of massive budget slashes in order to comply with International Monetary Fund requirements for debt refinancing.

Housing will pose a serious long-term problem. Unofficial estimates put the number of homeless at 250,000. A total of 33 shelters are caring for 75,000 to 80,000 people, said Enr'iquez Savignac.

Red Cross staff and volunteers scattered throughout the city are working to provide a full range of services. Public health officials are concerned with the possibility of an outbreak of disease and are taking preventive measures.

The government is not seeking food, clothing, or medical supplies from foreign sources. ``We need heavy machinery, helicopters, and demolition and structural experts,'' said Ricardo Ampudia, presidential spokesman, in an interview.

Defense Ministry personnel say they will contribute three days' salary to a fund for the homeless and that all valuable objects rescued in the wreckage will be donated to the fund.

[US and Israeli experts are assisting on demolition of structurally unsound buildings and the search for survivors, Reuters reports.

[France, Britain, Belgium, and Japan say they are sending manpower, supplies, and money to help the thousands of wounded and homeless.

[Many private religious and relief organizations in the United States and abroad have begun fund-raising drives, sending money and experts to Mexico City.

[Red Cross workers said more than 2,800 bodies had been dug out of the rubble, at least 400 people had been found alive, some 17,000 were hospitalized, and up to 10,000 people were unaccounted for in Mexico City and elsewhere.

[Sporadic looting has been a problem in Mexico City. Gangs of armed looters in groups of five or ten, often posing as rescue workers, sped through the city in cars marked with red crosses, pillaging jewelry shops, businesses and unguarded cars. Profiteering has also flourished as undertakers and food vendors hike their prices.]

Communications have posed an anguishing problem for Mexicans eager to contact their relatives living elsewhere in the country.

The government is offering free telegrams within Mexico until long distance telephone service is resumed. Mexican airlines are ferrying messages to any of their destinations in the country.

International telex lines began functioning again Saturday, and were immediately jammed. It was the first time in four days the world's largest city had a direct connection to the outside world.

``I think in 15 days we will restore all government functions,'' said Ricardo Ampudia, a presidential spokesman.

Mexico City is the site of the only major damage caused by the quake that rocked five Mexican states. ``I want to put special emphasis on [the fact] that the tourist areas are not damaged at all,'' Ampudia said, adding that the popular Pacific resorts of Acapulco, Iztapa, and Puerto Vallarta are unharmed. After oil, tourism is the second major source of foreign exchange for deeply indebted Mexico.

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