Mexico City Volunteers Report That Police Confiscated Tools, Barred Them From Rescuing Possibly Trapped Garment Workers

Image via first responder Analy Fabela.

It’s been hard to write or think about anything but Mexico City
this week. Another 6.1 earthquake has hit Mexico this
(Saturday) morning, swaying already-shaky buildings just after
a 7.1 magnitude quake ruptured about 100 miles south of the
city on Tuesday.

People are still trapped under the rubble.
The death toll across the states of Puebla, Morelos, and Mexico
has ticked up to 305 as of Saturday evening, ABC
reports. On Saturday morning, Public Radio International
reported that 40 buildings have collapsed in Mexico City alone;
at least one was an elementary school, where, the BBC reported
on Saturday morning, at least
21 children and five adults have died.

“I will not sleep in many hours,” lifelong Mexico City resident
Mitshell Soulwaxloxo wrote to Jezebel via Facebook messenger on
Wednesday night. “It is difficult for me to sleep when there
are people outside who are worried about their relatives, who
are helping and doing their best to save lives.”

And increasingly, media is reporting that police and military
are blocking volunteer aid efforts. Several eyewitnesses have
alleged to Jezebel that, on Friday, police blocked volunteers
from a textile factory in Colonia Obrera, where rescue workers
were said to have heard voices in the rubble.

Above, a video from freelance writer Michael Farley, at an
effort led by brigada feminista (a
feminist rescue brigade), showing what he and several other
volunteers allege to be a stand-off which devolved into a
chaotic battle of rock and bottle-throwing, during which police
began to confiscate tools and donations.

“I was there for hours and watched it devolve so fast it was
crazy,” Farley said over text message, backed up by fellow
volunteers Laos Salazar and Vik Oseguera.

“I spent hours the day before and god knows how much money
tracking down an angle grinder and metal cutting blades [in the
suburbs] to cut rebar…and I think they took those, too” he
said. (The previous day, he’d said that the most needed
resources were tools which are sold out from all local stores).

“That morning [Friday], we were so optimistic because all the
headlines in the papers here are about miracle rescues where
they pull half a dozen people out of rubble. And the cops were
just like Nope. No one here. Even though people who
escaped the factory claim women are still trapped inside.” He
says that ten people were allowed past the police line to take
photos, but communication soon devolved into a riot-like event.
“The cops made an effort by letting 10 people in to be
witnesses,” he said. “But they handled the situation horribly
and there was really not a lot of transparency on their
part.”

The website Tercera Vía and another
eyewitness have posted the same allegations on Facebook, claiming that
workers who were potentially inside had been laboring under
illegal conditions. The eyewitness writes that on Friday at 4PM
CT, police loaded donated tools, food, and medicine into
government trucks. She alleges that the status of the workers
believed to have been trapped inside is still unknown to the
public and calls for an investigation.

An unrelated Mexico City resident, illustrator and volunteer
Mario Rodríguez, had also heard Farley’s story spread by
friends from across the city.

We have reached out to the Director of Communications for the
Mexico City Police Department and will update the post when we
hear back.

The account is consistent with a similar report on Thursday in the Los
Angeles Times,
that, while President Enrique Peña Nieto
has reportedly deployed 3,000 soldiers to help, in one case the
military blocked a rescue site where a backhoe plowed through
rubble where people might have still been trapped.

“I hate to say this, but the institutions that have
collaborated least are civil protection,” said 19-year-old
first responder Analy Fabela during her first rest in nearly 34
hours on Wednesday night. “Most of us are non-governmental
civil institutions.” She and several others who reported to
Jezebel have also heard mixed messages about most donation
sites, but the universal advice has been to send tools:
hardhats, respirator masks, rebar cutters, metal cutting saws,
gloves, and rappelling equipment.

To send donations, Farley recommends getting in touch with
locals (for example, via Facebook’s Safety Check
page
), to connect. Mexico City resident and volunteer Mario
Rodríguez agrees with several publications including the
New York Times in recommending Topos, a
nonprofit created after the 1985 earthquake as a trustworthy
organization to donate to. The New York Times also recommends donating to
Direct Relief, a
humanitarian aid organization, GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding
organization, and Fondo Unido México.

Photo from Friday night of an excavation site of basement
where cries of garment workers were allegedly heard on the
previous afternoon. Image via Emilia Solís.

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