Mexico City (AFP) – When rain fell on Lucia Zamora’s face after long hours trapped in a coffin-like airspace amid the rubble of Mexico’s quake, it “was the most wonderful feeling of my life.”
The 36-year-old Mexican marketing consultant recounted an ordeal of more than 30 hours that started on Tuesday afternoon when the 7.1 earthquake hit Mexico City, bringing down the office block she was in, along with dozens of other buildings.
The suffocating isolation made her think she would die.
When the trembling started, Zamora told AFP, she grabbed her phone and went to the reception area on the third floor of the six-story structure.
From there, she and a workmate, Isaac, started to run for the fire escape — but never made it.
“I fell halfway, and that was when the roof collapsed on top of us,” she said.
“When everything stopped falling, the worst part started: you could hear screams, yells, people crying.”
She checked her phone, but was unable to make calls.
“Little by little, I started to see I was in a tiny space, and I realized I was isolated. I only had a few scrapes. And I was next to Isaac… I practically couldn’t move,” Zamora said.
After asking each other if they were OK, the gravity of the situation sunk in.
“It’s a shock. You find yourself there and you can’t believe it. There was a wall about a hand’s width from my face,” she said.
“As the hours passed, bit by bit we came to accept the reality of it. And each time we heard noises, we yelled nonstop so someone would hear us: ‘Help! We’re here!’”
– ‘Eternity’ under the debris –
With no response, she and Isaac discussed where their other colleagues might be, and how things might have been different if they had acted differently, or sooner.
“But Isaac said to me, we went to the emergency exit. We did what we were supposed to do,” Zamora said.
“And I said, if we’re both here in this spot it’s because it was the right spot to find ourselves in. Maybe two steps more and we would have died…. What kept me going was the simple fact of still being alive.”
Zamora said they shared much of their life stories during those hours of anguish, even though they barely knew each other before disaster struck.
At one point, they heard yells from another trapped colleague nearby, and asked her if she could hear any sounds from outside.
“The rescue took an eternity,” Zamora said.
“It took until the next day to be rescued. I don’t have the timeframe clear. But around 4:00 or 5:00 pm, we started to hear a lot of noises and machinery getting closer.
“That was when both of us started to yell out together, even though we were very tired,” she added.
“And after a while, we heard a man ask, ‘Are you there?’ and it was the first time we’d heard someone else and a really special joy washed over us, and we gave them our names.”
– Rescue ‘like a birth’ –
But even then, it took around another six hours of captivity under the tons of rubble before a way could be cleared to get them out.
“During that time, we stayed in contact with the rescue workers, swapping jokes, promising to invite them to dinner. They said they’d seen a photo of me, that I had a beautiful smile,” Zamora said.
“Nobody should ever lose hope in these guys and their profession.”
Finally an opening was made, and the rescue workers gained access.
“An arm reached in and took my hand, and for me it was a breath of fresh air, though I still couldn’t see any light,” Zamora recalled.
“They put me in a harness and ended up pulling me out — and I so wanted to live.
“When I got out, it was raining — and the rain on my face was the most wonderful feeling in my life,” she added.
Around her, everybody applauded.
“For the rescue workers, each life saved is a big celebration, they treat it like a birth,” Zamora said.
Now, Zamora, said, she can barely believe she escaped with only a few scrapes.
Returning to work will be some way off as she comes to terms with her near-fatal experience, spending days with her family.
“I’m so very grateful. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance and that I have an important mission to do in this life, that I will discover bit by bit,” she said.