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  • Lior Sperandeo

THE DAY THE EARTH SHOOK | Puebla Earthquake, Mexico

Updated: Jul 30



September 16, 2017 - The streets of Mexico are flooded with people, music on every corner, and the aromas of what I consider, the best food in the world is making me greedy.


It was Mexico's nearly 200th Independence Day and a perfect day to start another assignment away from home.


I did not imagine this trip would take such a sharp turn and become one of the most stressful experiences I have ever experienced.



I arrived in Mexico City for a couple of assignments. The first was to document the humanitarian work of an Educational NGO I was following, working in local schools and orphanages. Second, to Film a short documentary for Great Big Story (By CNN) about a brave cave explorer.


Everything changed on September 19,

when the Puebla Earthquake struck at exactly 1:14 pm.


I was documenting inside an elementary school when the mighty earthquake shook the entire building completely. There was no way you could have prepared for such a moment.


Objects flew around the room, and the tremor lasted for 20 seconds. I ran out to an open safe area, trying to hold myself together with the rest of the school. The networks collapsed, and the noise of ambulances began to sound from afar.


It quickly became clear to me that something horrible had just happened, and I happened to be here.



It is not the first time I have found myself in a disaster zone.  Only this time, It didn't take me days to arrive at the scene.


I'm here now, experiencing the disaster myself, worried and shaking. Dozens of buildings in the city had collapsed with people wailing – trapped in the rubble. 


I know the first hours post-event are crucial, and the response time will determine the death toll that climbs from minute to minute.



A camera on my shoulder, I began to run into the unknown to document these critical moments. I don't know where I'm going; I don't speak Spanish, and I don't know the city at all.


At this point, I'm following my instincts and defaulting to my background as a news cameraman to get to the centre of attention, no matter what it takes. 


I stopped a police car and waved an expired press card, begging to get a ride.


It worked somehow, but after a few minutes, the streets got filled with people escaping the buildings, and we couldn't move. I had to continue on foot.


A team of climbers walks by me fully geared, looking like they are heading to rescue people. I follow them, and we arrive at a site of a building that has collapsed with people inside.



While police and army forces were helpless, thousands of citizens took to the streets and in perfect synchronization began to undertake the rescue work themselves. Each was acting as though they had practiced it in advance.


Some crawled through the rubble to search for survivors, hundreds of volunteers clawed away at the fallen debris so that rescue vehicles could cross.



Every few minutes, there would be a shout for silence, to hear the cries of people under the rubble. After each call, a hush would descend, and fists would be raised to the sky in anticipation of any sign of life.



It was then, in these moments of intense silence, that I, too, understood my role and the remarkable human story I was capturing.


Despite the tragic situation, every living thing which provided a sign of life from the ruins filled the crowd with such hope. More importantly, it inspired motivation to continue the rescue effort; a magnificent symbol of human harmony. 




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