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All children accounted for at school at center of intense search after earthquake in Mexico

MEXICO CITY  — The search for a 12-year-old thought to be trapped in a Mexico City elementary school ended Thursday with the news that all students have been accounted for.

For days, Colegio Enrique Rebsamen has been the site of a massive search and rescue operation that offered a glimmer of hope in the chaotic aftermath of Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 quake.

As of Thursday afternoon, authorities had determined the whereabouts of all the school’s students, both alive and dead, Angel Enrique Sarmiento, Mexico’s sub-secretary of Navy, said Thursday.

“We are certain that all the children either passed away, are in local hospitals, or are safe and sound in their houses,” he told reporters.

But signs suggest someone is still alive underneath the school, he said.

 

Two earthquakes in 12 days

The rescue attempt was one of many searches underway in buildings that collapsed in the region after the country’s second major temblor in less than two weeks.

Tuesday’s quake turned dozens of buildings in central Mexico into dust and debris, killing at least 250 people, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told Foro TV.

President Enrique Peña Nieto has declared a national emergency, and the country is observing three days of national mourning. Tuesday’s quake came 12 days after a 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit farther south on September 8, killing nearly 100 people.

An unaccounted number of people are staying at shelters around Mexico City after losing their homes. Schools have closed indefinitely, and millions remain without power.

Mexico’s President asked people to stay indoors and away from the streets while rescue attempts continue. Still, residents are joining forces with rescue workers to search for survivors.

In Mexico City’s Condesa section, a large rescue operation was underway Thursday at a collapsed building that had housed an outsourcing company. Elsewhere in the neighborhood, police blocked a road leading to a food processing company that also was damaged.

Cristobal Perres Garcia, 59, said police told him that one of his cousins — a worker at the food processing plant — was among several who died when it collapsed.

In Puebla state, southeast of Mexico City, the quake crumbled a church, killing a girl who was being baptized and 11 others attending the event, Gov. Tony Gali said. More than 9,700 homes and 100-plus government buildings were damaged in the state, Gali said.

There were more than 100 deaths in Mexico City, one of North America’s most populous metropolises with more than 21 million people. Other deaths included 69 in Morelos state, 43 in Puebla state, 13 in the state of Mexico, four in Guerrero state and one in Oaxaca state, according to Luis Felipe Puente, national coordinator of civil protection for the Interior Ministry.

To provide some scope of the affected area, Oaxaca de Juarez, the capital of Oaxaca state, is almost 480 kilometers (300 miles) from Mexico City.

Just hours before Tuesday’s quake, authorities held a citywide drill on the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake that killed an estimated 9,500 people in and around Mexico City.

‘I thought someone was kicking my chair’

About 2,000 public schools were damaged in Tuesday’s quake, Secretary of Public Education Aurelio Nuños said. Sixteen of the 212 affected schools in Mexico City had serious damage, he said.

At the private Colegio Enrique Rabsamen, where rescuers were trying to reach the girl, the temblor caused the school to fold in on itself, sandwiching and collapsing classroom onto classroom.

Foro TV interviewed two girls who said they were doing their English homework as the building began to shake.

“I thought someone was kicking my chair, but I turned around and no one was kicking me,” one girl told the station.

“The English teacher said there was a quake. Our teacher took us to the stairs, and that’s when part of the building started to come down. There was dust everywhere. We couldn’t see.”

The loss of lives weighed heavily on volunteers at the school site such as Ivan Ramos, whose son survived.

“This is a tragedy,” he said. “It’s kids. It will take a long time to heal.”