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'Now I Know What Fear Is'

"Everywhere I looked on my way home, someone was asking for help."

22/09/2017 17:01 SAST | Updated 22/09/2017 17:01 SAST

I admit it: The earthquake scared me. Hastily walking through the hallways at my workplace as the lights went out made me feel uneasy. But when I got out of the subway, on the way home, that's where I really felt afraid.

I got to the platform at the Miguel Ángel de Quevedo subway station at around 3:30 p.m., almost two hours after the earthquake. It was empty. I hesitated, deciding whether or not to stay. What if it was out of order? I started to come up with ideas about how I was going to get back home when I thought I heard an earthquake warning. A lady (I don't know where she came from) held onto my arm. False alarm; it was an Amber alert coming from the screens at the station. "Whose idea was it to do that now?" I asked myself.

In a car, someone yelled, "I smell something burning!" That was two already. Mass hysteria cost us; we were stuck in a tunnel for about half an hour. And from that point on, from stop to stop, delays... I ended up getting off some stops earlier and walking.

Big mistake. Everything I found on my path was what I only knew from movies and documentaries. People crying desperately in the sidewalks, who did not dare go home. It wasn't unwarranted; the streets were filled with glass, rubble, or makeshift "Danger - Do not cross" lines made with ropes, string, and clothes.

The more I walked, the more and more chaos I ran into. Every three buildings, there was a damaged one. I couldn't believe it.

Nelly Acosta Vazquez
Nelly Acosta Vazquez
Nelly Acosta Vazquez

The worst was yet to come; a collapsed building at Gabriel Mancera Street made me feel like I was in a war zone. I pulled my cellphone out to take pictures. My hands were shaking.

A person asked me to watch over her daughter. She needed to go in a damaged building to get their stuff out. Countless movies came to my mind; what if she didn't come back? "I better go with you," I said. We didn't make it past the first floor; after the first landing in the stairs, there was no wall anymore... I felt a knot in my stomach.

Farther ahead, another building had lost an entire side, as if it had been sliced. The authorities were already there, the neighbors were on the sidewalks holding their suitcases. They were all going with their families or neighbors; they weren't safe there anymore.

I wanted to walk faster to get home but it was impossible. The 5TH eje (arterial road) looked like something out of a movie. There were so many people all over the place that you couldn't get through. And everywhere you looked, someone was asking for help. There was no way I could say no, even if every time got me farther from home.

I've never called anyone during an earthquake. I assume that nothing's going to happen, that they will contact me. "You shouldn't jam the phone lines," I say to myself. Now, what I most wanted was to call my mom who lives in Villa Coapa, a few steps from the schools that had been reported as destroyed...

I don't know how but, after almost three hours, I got home, when the walk from the subway usually takes me no more than 10 minutes.

There was no damage, just books everywhere. No power, no internet, nothing. My cellphone had practically ran out of battery.

I left the house once again. I had to call my mom, no matter what.

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