Rescue workers in Mexico are racing against the clock to save a 12-year-old girl who has been discovered alive in the rubble of a primary school which collapsed when a major earthquake hit the country on Tuesday.
At least 237 people were killed by the 7.1-magnitude quake that struck near Mexico City, destroying buildings, cutting gas mains and sparking fires.
Among those dead were 21 children who were killed when their primary school in the capital city was reduced to rubble. The bodies of four adults have also been recovered from the Enrique Rebsamen School, Reuters reported.
But emergency workers have now located a girl, known only as Frida Sofia, who is still alive among the wreckage.
According to broadcaster Televisa, the pupil told rescuers that there were two other students nearby, but she could not tell if they were alive.
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Rescuers previously had seen a hand protruding from the debris, and she wiggled her fingers when asked if she was still alive.
Her family are currently waiting in anguish nearby as emergency workers erect makeshift wooden scaffolding to prevent rubble from crumbling further and seeking a path to the child through the unstable ruins.
As in rescue scenes throughout the central Valley of Mexico, officials ruled out using heavy equipment as long as there were signs of life below.
Earlier in the day, another young girl had sent messages to her mother begging rescuers to find her, El Universal reported.
Recovery workers have made urgent pleas on camera for beams and chains to support parts of the school ruins that were collapsing.
“We have a lot of hope that some will still be rescued,” said David Porras, one of scores of volunteers helping the search at the school for children aged 3 to 14.
“But we’re slow, like turtles,” he said.
Similar efforts have pulled more than 50 survivors from buildings around the country, President Enrique Pena Nieto said in a national address.
Such rescues lead to impassioned cries of “Yes we can!” from responders and bystanders.
Rescuers periodically demanded “total silence” from bystanders, who would freeze in place and stay quiet, to better hear calls for help.
Fifty-two buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera told reporters.
In all the quake killed 102 people in Mexico City and the remaining 135 from five surrounding states. Another 1,900 people were treated for injuries, the president said.
The quake struck a mere 31 km (32 miles) beneath the surface, sending major shockwaves through the metropolitan area, where around 20 million people live.
Initial reports suggest that collapses were limited mostly to buildings that predated the 1985 quake, after which stricter building codes were enacted.
“The central part of Mexico City, in the lake bed, is always going to be a complicated place to build,” said Rodrigo Suarez, chief operating officer at Mexico City-based apartment developer Hasta Capital.
“These old buildings (may) survive an earthquake or two or three, but since they weren’t built to modern code, there’s always going to be a risk in major earthquakes.”
Tuesday’s temblor comes less than two weeks after another powerful tremor killed nearly 100 people in the south of the country.
According to Mexico’s president, reinforcements from the US, Spain, Israel, Japan and several Latin American countries have already begun to arrive.