On 7 September at 11:49 pm, an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale struck Mexico’s coast of Chiapas, which heavily affected neighbouring state Oaxaca and slightly affected other parts of the country, including Mexico City. More than 120 municipalities in Chiapas and 41 others in Oaxaca have been declared under a state of emergency.
UNICEF reacted promptly and sent a team of specialists to visit the areas worst affected by the earthquake. The team determined that it is a matter of priority for children and adolescents to receive psychosocial support and all the necessary help to return to school as soon as possible.
Update: UNICEF is now also assessing the damage and effects on children and their families following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City on September 19th. To help with recovery efforts, go to unicef.ca/mexico.
Over two million children live 166 municipalities that have been declared under a state of emergency by the Mexican Government in the two states worst affected by the earthquake and it is crucial for them to resume their normal lives as soon as possible.
“After a traumatic experience as serious as this, it's key for children's recovery to resume their normal routine as soon as possible, and part of it is returning to school," said Pressia Arifin Cabo, UNICEF Mexico's Deputy Representative, from the southern state of Chiapas.
The earthquake in children's own voices
During the first day of their visit to some of the worst affected areas, the UNICEF Mexico team learnt from the children themselves and from their families what they experienced on the night of Thursday 7 of September in the area at the epicentre of the earthquake.
José Raquel Tirado, 12 years old, told the team how he was woken up by the loud noise of roof tiles falling from his adobe-brick home: "I was asleep. The earthquake woke me up and then, then I got up and opened the doors so that my granny, my grandad and my mum could get out of the house," he says in a still agitated tone.
“We then gathered in the laundry area and prayed for the earthquake to pass," he said.
José Raquel and other children in the area say that they have experienced earthquakes before but none as strong as this one. Leonel Indili Ríos, 10 years old, came to the small town of Gustavo López Gutiérrez, in the municipality of Pijijiapan, at the epicentre of the earthquake, to visit his cousins and friends, and he tells the UNICEF staff: "I also was very frightened because when things fell they made a lot of noise."
Erika Guadalupe Prado, eight years old, talks shyly with the UNICEF team but agrees with the other children in the community in that she was very scared because the electricity went off and she could hear parts of the roofs and walls falling.
In the view of the municipal authorities in the places visited by the UNICEF staff, children of all ages are very scared as a result of having experienced what is considered the strongest earthquake to hit Mexico in 100 years.
The organization estimates that it will need a minimum of US$ 1.2 million for immediate and complementary response to meet the needs of children and adolescents in earthquake affected areas, as well as those that might come up in Veracruz and other areas as a result of the hurricanes in the Caribbean.