Rescue crews rush to search collapsed buildings after Mexico earthquake

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JUDY WOODRUFF: From Mexico to the Caribbean, natural disasters dominated this day.

First, the earthquake that rocked Central Mexico on Tuesday. The death toll rose to 223 today, and the nation's president warned, every minute counts to save lives.

A desperate search for life today in Mexico City, police, firefighters and volunteers digging into a collapsed school. Sometimes, they found survivors, sometimes not, but the search went on.

GABRIEL URIBE, Volunteer (through interpreter): People are helping. We are gathering at the collection center and managing as we can. People are showing a lot of solidarity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The quake hit Tuesday afternoon near the Puebla state town of Raboso, 76 miles southeast of Mexico City.

The violence of the shaking was evident: Buildings swayed and convulsed, and at least 44 collapsed, lost in plumes of smoke. Pleasure boats were tossed like toys in a bathtub. Terrified people streamed from homes and offices.

JESUS ARIAS, Resident (through interpreter): Horrible, horrible, frighteningly horrible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A wing of a school pancaked into concrete slabs. Rescuers dug frantically, some with bare hands. At times, raised arms signaled the crowd for silence as they listened for sounds of life. The search went on through the night, under the glare of floodlights and the watchful eye of anxious parents.

DIANA LIMON, Resident (through interpreter): My kids go to school on the next street, and when I saw the school, I panicked, and I ran and I ran for my children. I spent all afternoon here watching them rescue people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Crews brought in wooden beams to shore up the school building. And, ultimately, they spotted one survivor, but pulled 25 bodies from the rubble, all but four of them children.

The same scenes were repeated over and over across the region, hundreds of people hunting for the living and dead, and survivors telling of narrow escapes.

ALMA GONZALEZ, Resident (through interpreter): It was a very hard hit that went down. I went to find my child and I couldn't. I was trapped on the third floor, and the people in the house next door helped me get out with a ladder. I am just grateful to God that we are here for something.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Morelos state, where 60 percent of residents lost power, they began burying their dead and surveying the damage today.

SILVESTRE TINOCO, Resident (through interpreter): The good thing is that my wife and my grandson were the only ones there. She's injured a little, but she's there alive.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The quake hit less than two weeks after even stronger tremor struck Southern Mexico, and killed nearly 100 people. It also came on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City that killed thousands. There had even been earthquake drills yesterday morning.

In a national address last night, Mexico's President Pena Nieto spoke of his country's resilience in the face of repeated disasters.

PRESIDENT ENRIQUE PENA NIETO, Mexico (through interpreter): This earthquake is a hard test and a painful one for our country. Mexicans have had very difficult experiences with earthquakes in the past and we have learned how to respond to these incidents with a spirit of solidarity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: From New York today, President Trump spoke to Pena Nieto at length. And at the Vatican, Pope Francis led thousands of people in prayer for the earthquake victims.

For more, joining us from Mexico City is Gus with the Associated Press.

Gus, tell us where you are and what you have been seeing today.

GUS VALCARCEL, Associated Press: Hi, Judy.

I am in the Roma North district of Mexico City, a residential commercial area, and right behind me, as you can probably see, is an apartment building that came crumbling down.

This obviously happened yesterday in the afternoon, and at least 20 bodies have been pulled out of the rubble, Judy. A very sad moment for Mexico and for this community. The good news is, apparently, they are hearing some noises that the experts believe are people who may still be alive inside those rubble.

So, they are not losing hope that they will find more survivors.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gus Valcarcel reporting for us from Mexico City, thank you.

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