ORT Mexico University has offered itself as an aid distribution centre to help those badly affected by an earthquake which hit Mexico City yesterday reportedly claiming more than 200 lives.
Meanwhile, the Colegio Israelita de Mexico – ORT (CIM-ORT) day school, like all the capital’s schools, has closed until further notice.
Both institutions were hastily but safely evacuated after the 7.1 magnitude quake struck at lunchtime (local time) yesterday, causing buildings to collapse at more than 40 places across the city. No-one among the ORT family has been reported injured.
The CIM-ORT school is built on solid ground while the university is situated in the Roma Norte neighbourhood of the capital, whose soft soil makes it vulnerable to earthquake damage. But the three-storey building survived intact, having been constructed according to the best earthquake resistant specifications in the 1990s.
“I was in a meeting when the earthquake hit at about 1.15pm,” said University Rector Moises Salinas. “We had 100 to 120 people in the building. The earthquake was pretty strong, strong enough so that when we were going down the stairs it was throwing us from side to side. It was difficult to climb down the stairs but I was more worried that someone could fall down the stairs than about the building collapsing. The adrenaline is going and you don’t have time to be scared. There were people coming down from the second floor and I had to tell them to stop running because you are more likely to have someone injured if everyone is running.”
The 7.1 magnitude quake is the second to hit Mexico in as many weeks, the previous one was stronger but the epicentre was further from the capital so caused it less damage.
“It was ironic that it was the anniversary of the big earthquake of 1985 when it’s traditional to have a practice evacuation, which we did at 11am. So the actual evacuation went very smoothly,” Dr Salinas said.
For four hours after the quake, the district’s roads were closed so Dr Salinas called his family, inspected the building and discussed with his management team their response to the d
isaster. In that time he counted four nearby buildings which had collapsed. A few blocks distance, the Nidje Israel Ashkenazi Synagogue was seriously damaged and one person was reported badly injured. It is believed to be the only Jewish communal building to have been damaged in the earthquake.
“We phoned everyone to confirm that classes today would be cancelled and offered our building to an organisation which is distributing aid because we’re right in the middle of everything and we have space. And it is, after all, in the ethos of our university. They accepted in principle but we will find out today whether logistically our offer is practical,” Dr Salinas said.
His brother, Jimmy, is National Director of ORT Mexico. He confirmed that the ORT community had come through the situation unharmed.
“We are fine,” he said yesterday in response to messages of concern, sympathy and support from members of the ORT family around the world. “The students at the school are all safe. The school has been inspected and there is no structural damage. Classes are cancelled until further notice. But the city is in total chaos. It is hard to describe what’s going on here… dozens of buildings collapsed… an elementary school completely destroyed killing more than 20 children… Collective hysteria with people expecting an aftershock at any moment… Hard days are ahead of us.”
As they prepare for Rosh Hashana, which starts tonight, all in Mexico’s ORT community are hoping for calm but their thoughts will with the thousands of compatriots who will not be fortunate enough to be sitting down to feast with friends and families.
“We’re safe but we’re very sorry knowing that it is those who have less who are usually the ones who suffer most in these situations,” said Dr Salinas. “We’re willing to help in any way we can – that’s our mission.”