Reporter's Notebook: Remembering the miracles of the 1985 Mexico earthquake

The Mexico quake rekindled memories for a reporter who covered 1985's disaster.

ByABC News
September 21, 2017, 6:56 AM

— -- ABC News reporter John Quinones, who covered the 1985 Mexico earthquake, reflects on the disaster, which killed thousands, in the wake of this week's quake exactly 32 years later.

When I saw the breaking news headline, “Earthquake in Mexico City,” I felt a familiar pain in the pit of my stomach. It took me back to that awful day -- exactly 32 years ago -- when I landed in Mexico’s massive capital to cover the country’s last major earthquake on Sept. 19, 1985.

It struck at 7:17 a.m. while most of the city’s residents were still at home: a violent trembling of the earth that registered a magnitude 8.0. The powerful shaking continued for three to five minutes, but it seemed to last forever. The energy released at the height of the quake, said experts, was equivalent to approximately 1,114 nuclear weapons exploding.

Hundreds of buildings collapsed. Some 10,000 people were left dead and tens of thousands, injured or homeless.

I remember landing on the only runway left open at Benito Juarez International Airport to widespread chaos on the streets of the capital. Hundreds of thousands –- perhaps millions -- of people refused to go inside their homes or offices, afraid of the inevitable, powerful aftershocks.

But then, thousands more residents rolled up their sleeves and started digging through the rubble -– brick by brick -- searching for survivors. Every few minutes, one of the volunteers would yell, "Silencio!" and immediately, everyone would stop digging. There was an eerie quiet in the dusty air as we all listened for any sound of survivors.

But, as the days went by, the chances of finding more victims alive grew slimmer and slimmer.

And then came the miracles.

In the middle of the night, six days after the quake first struck, we were filming at Juarez Hospital in the heart of the capital. No one had been rescued in days. Then suddenly, the volunteers raised their hands in the air, once again calling for silence. One of the workers had heard what he thought was the faint sound of a baby, crying. The volunteers then resumed their frantic digging. And sure enough, within minutes, they gently pulled a 6-day-old infant -– tiny Elvira Rosas -- out of the rubble. She had been born just minutes before the ground shook almost a week before and somehow, against all odds, had survived.

And, that wasn’t all. An hour and a half later, another call for quiet and yet another infant -– this time an 8-day-old baby boy was carried out to cheers and tearful cries of gratitude.

Tonight, as we watch tireless volunteers once again dig through the rubble of collapsed buildings -– including a Mexico City school where dozens of children were trapped -- the rescues we witnessed exactly 32 years ago, should give us hope.

After all, "miracles" do happen.

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