Mexican women show resolve in earthquake’s aftermath

When a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico, toppling buildings and leaving hundreds of people trapped, Mexicans quickly mobilized a mammoth rescue operation involving police, firefighters, soldiers and other professionals bolstered by an army of everyday civilians.

The volunteer workers have come from all walks of life, and they include large numbers of women, underlining social changes in recent years that have seen Mexican women move into roles traditionally restricted to men.

Nadia Rosas stands inside her aunt's home covered with spray paint symbols designating it condemned, after it was destroyed by an earthquake, Sept. 23, 2017,  in Atzala, Mexico. Rosas moved in with her 68-year-old aunt after the earthquake destroyed everything. "In these catastrophes we're united as brothers, as people, as women," Rosas said. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Women did participate in rescue work after the devastating 1985 quake that killed thousands in Mexico City, but only in relatively small numbers. Juana Huitron, the most famous of the female “topos,” as Mexican volunteer searchers were known, has said she faced machismo back then.

Since then, even though women still make up a smaller percentage of the workforce than their male counterparts, they have become leaders in education, business and the arts.

Isabel Campana, 28, holds up a closed fist as a gesture to maintain silence outside a collapsed building after an earthquake, Sept. 22, 2017, in Mexico City. Campana said she was filming a movie when she and her crew felt the earthquake on Sept. 19, but were not allowed to stop filming and felt conflicted between her job and running to volunteer in the search and rescue efforts. "I felt impotent when not able to leave immediately to help. It creates a moral conflict. It feels good to know when there are disasters, people come out to help." After finishing work, Campana said she started volunteering. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

And since the deadly Sept. 19 quake, women are working alongside men digging into rubble to search for possible survivors, leading campaigns to collect food and medicine for those left homeless and comforting relatives of the deceased.

Here are some of their stories:

KAREN PINA: Doctor with the Red Cross

Dr. Karen Pina Fragoso poses for a portrait at the home being used as a safe-house for personal items being pulled from the rubble across the street from an apartment building that collapsed from an earthquake in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City, Sept. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

From the base of a crushed apartment building, Pina coordinated between searchers, doctors and ambulance teams to arrange medical care for those rescued from the debris pile.

“Not having anything to tell the families of those trapped made me feel helpless,” she said. “I pulled out three people alive, which was worth every ounce of effort spent these days. I cried every time we found someone.”



Volunteer rescue worker Lizabeth Yazmin Lopez poses for a portrait outside a collapsed building, Sept. 22, 2017, in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Wearing a hard hat and reflective vest, Lopez joined in the arduous hunt for survivors, shoveling through mounds of rubble the first day after the quake.

“I was 14 years old during the ’85 earthquake. I was a Girl Scout. I volunteered at a donation center, but with fear. In 2017, I have a lot of strength and hope,” Lopez said. “Tragedy makes you value life and as a society. Together we can lift up a country with love and hope.”



Frida Islas Rueda, 22-year-old student, poses for a picture near debris from a damaged building after an earthquake, Sept. 22, 2017, in Mexico City.  (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

A 22-year-old, Islas was studying when the quake struck, knocking out power in her school’s building. She walked six hours to get home and started aiding the rescue immediately after.

“I help because people need support. I don’t know them,” she said. “I remove debris, bring supplies and give food to scared animals. It saddens me to see the city like this, but the union between Mexicans comforts me. I couldn’t stay at home knowing how the city is right now.”


VERONICA AGUILAR: Computer sales

Veronica Aguilar Naranjo embraces her 11-year-old daughter Veronica Villanueva as they look at a collapsed building where people search for survivors,  Sept. 22, 2017, after an earthquake in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Aguilar was in a supermarket when the quake struck and rushed home to her 11-year-old daughter. At first, she stayed home, but then concluded she had to do something. She took her daughter to a collapsed office building to help, and show the girl the importance of helping however possible in the face of tragedy.

“The first days (after the quake) I didn’t leave my house because of fear. But I decided to leave so that my daughter could see what is happening, to make her aware. So that she sees when you can help, you should,” Aguilar said. “Among Mexicans, there is a lot of love. When something bad happens, we know that everyone chips in. ”



Myrna Mogul adjusts her gloves during search and rescue efforts at a collapsed building after an earthquake, Sept. 22, 2017, Mexico City.  (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

After the quake, she went to work on a different stage: a collapsed apartment building. She put on a construction hat and began digging through debris helping look for anyone still trapped inside.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 19 quake, the independent theater actress said she abandoned the stage for a different scene. She donned a construction hat and began digging through the rubble to help find those still trapped inside.

"Whether you're a man or woman, you must help, as a human being. Find people alive or dead, but find them, so people can go on with their lives. It doesn't have to do with gender, age, class or profession. It has to do with your ability as a human to help others." 

Aremy Sanchez Flores walks with her husband Jose Padilla after getting married in a empty lot in front a church that collapse after an earthquake in Atzala, Mexico, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017. Eleven people died during a baptism last Tuesday in the Church where the couple had to get married. Flores said she was very sad but is time to move forward. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Volunteer Abigail Carino Marin cooks for homeless people affected by the earthquake, Sept. 23, 2017, Atzala, Mexico. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Luna Zetina poses for a portrait outside the building felled by an earthquake as she waits for news of her cousin, Sept. 22, 2017, in Mexico City, Mexico. Zetina is working to share first hand information with family members about Angel Javier Saucedo,27, who was inside the office building at the corner of Alvaro Obregon and Yucatan when the quake struck on Sept. 19. She said she also relays messages unrelated to her cousin to help overall communication efforts. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Margarita De La Cruz stands inside her home that was declared condemned after it was damaged by an earthquake, Sept. 23, 2017, Atzala, Mexico. De La Cruz was told by authorities she had to leave her home after the Sept. 19 quake, but the 68-year-old woman said she won't leave because she has spent her entire life there, and has moved into a tiny room that works as a kitchen in the garden. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Juana Villanueva, 41, holds the photo of her mother Carmela Meresis, who died in a church that collapsed during the Sept. 19 earthquake, Sept. 23, 2017, in Atzala, Mexico. Villanueva lost her two sisters, a brother-in-law, a nephew and a niece to the quake who were attending a baptism when the temple collapsed. Villanueva said: "We need to have the will because God left us here to live. We're alive for a reason, to rise above all else and support each other. This is really hard what we're dealing with, but if we don't give it all we've got and find strength and courage from where we can, who will? If we don't help each other spiritually and emotionally, we'll fall. No, we have to have the will because life goes on." (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Mariana Mancera, a 35-year-old makeup artist, poses for a portrait in front of an earthquake-crushed car, In this Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 photo, in Mexico City. Mancera, whose family owns a restaurant, said she volunteered to provide food to those searching for survivors in the rubble after the 7.1 earthquake on Sept. 19. "If I cannot work removing stones and debris, then I'll do something else to give them energy so they can do their jobs." (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Ilya Monforte, a 40-year-old makeup artist, carries oranges for search and rescue workers at a building that collapsed from an earthquake, Sept. 22, 2017 photo, in Mexico City. Monforte, a volunteer in charge of feeding the search and rescue team and military police at the sight following the Sept. 19 magnitude 7.1 earthquake, said: "For the last three days we did not need money, it was like living in socialism. The collective goal during these days was to help others, to take care of them, love them. On each corner you can find people giving." (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Text from the AP news story, Mexican women show resolve in earthquake's aftermathby Natacha Pisarenko.

Photos by Natacha Pisarenko