In the beginning we prepared sit-reps [situation reports, i.e., cables done during a crisis] on an hourly basis. Most of Alaska’s mainland felt the magnitude 9.2 earthquake, which wobbled Seattle’s Space Needle some 1,200 miles ...read more, Mexico City, Mexico’s largest city and the most populous metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere, is also known as Distrito Federal, or the federal district. I cannot believe that the government actually impeded the rescue efforts that brave civilians had begun. It was a Foreign Service Officer who had to load these sacks and take an airplane at night. Making matters worse, on the evening of September 20, a magnitude 7.5 aftershock shook the region. On Sept. 19, 1985, an earthquake registering 8.1 on the Richter scale struck Mexico City. ZUCKERMAN:  It was again a period when a chargé ran the Embassy, and John Ferch had gone on to Cuba as head of our mission there and later became our Ambassador in Honduras, and there was a rather long gap before John Gavin, Reagan’s appointee as Ambassador, was confirmed and arrived on the job. Country Mexico Location Mexico City Brief Overview of the Disaster On September 19, 1985, at 7:19 a.m., Mexico City was struck by an earthquake that measured 8.1 on the Richter scale and lasted more than a minute and a half. I was amazed. Then we went to the embassy and she gave a speech. Related pages. HUGHES:  During the brief period that I was on the NSC staff in connection with Mexico, my main activities were planning a trip that Nancy Reagan made to Mexico and accompanying her to give a symbolic donation of a million dollars to the victims of the September 1985 Mexico City earthquake and dealing with a presidential phone call between de la Madrid and Ronald Reagan. The Secret Service had great difficulty with the Mexican authorities maintaining any kind of crowd control around her. The Administrative Counselor, Doug Watson, a tremendous help and calming influence, came in at 9:00 a.m. and we had to decide what to do. Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. and when it stopped I decided to leave the building, have a cup of coffee for twenty minutes, and then go back to work. Subscribe for fascinating stories connecting the past to the present. His mother was born in Mexico, in Sonora. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! An apartment building destroyed by an earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985. So I was in the Embassy the next night at 6 or 7 o’clock when the major aftershock came. AID sent many of them because it was in charge of our disaster relief at that time. They had spent a lot of time together as children. The 1985 Mexico City earthquake: an excerpt from “Shooter” ... They’d built a lot of the new buildings in Mexico City, with the elevator in the center of the building to form a steel core like the rods in reinforced concrete. The momentum carried me; there were things that had to be done. He landed and said to the press that he thought there might be more than 20,000 deaths. They also strengthened one corner of the building. It was the only time no one paid much attention to the American Ambassador. On the morning of September 19, 1985, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit the western states of Mexico and including Mexico City. That second night I was in the Embassy until 1 or 2 in the morning. I really got my appreciation for the damage at 11 o’clock that night. The earthquake resulted in around $3 billion to $4 billion in damage. NARRATOR: When the earthquake occurred in 1985 the initial waves did in fact weaken as they approached the center of the country. Mexico City is located at an elevation of more than 7,300 feet above sea level. His Spanish was impeccable. And neither one of these figures probably counted Mexican-Americans or Mexicans that have family in the States. Of a population of 18 million, an estimated 10,000 people were killed, and 50,000 were injured. What was especially needed was machinery to cut through the concrete reinforcing rods, oxygen, the sniffer dogs to search for survivors, tents, heavy machinery to move some of the rubble, lighting systems, and communications gear. Considerable damage and injuries were reported in other parts of the Umbria region. So a lot of what we did in USIS, we would also sponsor seminars for journalists and so on. The city has ...read more, From the stone cities of the Maya to the might of the Aztecs, from its conquest by Spain to its rise as a modern nation, Mexico boasts a rich history and cultural heritage spanning more than 10,000 years. Of course, the Mexicans refused to accept his figure. What could possibly be achieved by the First Lady’s going to Mexico except inconveniencing the Mexicans at a time of national disorder and stress and grieving and all the rest of it and getting some photo-ops for Nancy Reagan? There was a huge controversy. He immediately jumped to the conclusion that those were buildings that were probably built not to the standards which were in print, but not always observed, of how buildings ought to be built in a seismic zone. There was no time for an advance visit or anything. Some of them came from homes that were damaged. “Here come the Americans to blow up our Mexican buildings.” Would it work? More than 80,000 people perished as a result of the quake, while an estimated 4 million ...read more, On April 18, 1906, an earthquake and subsequent fires devastated San Francisco, California, leaving more than 3,000 people dead and destroying more than 28,000 buildings. Then I went back to the airport at 3 a.m. to meet Ambassador Gavin. It had a magnitudeof 8.1, and the number of people killed added up to 10,000 deaths. On September 19, 1985, at 7:18 in the morning, the residents of Mexico City were jolted awake by an 8.1-magnitude earthquake, one of the strongest to ever hit the area. I remember we let every American, tourist or resident, come to the Embassy and write a one-page telegram. I was lucky in that the phones were still working and I called home and found that my family and the house were unharmed. Quakes, most of them minor, and none as strong as the one in 1985, remained a constant feature of life in Mexico City. Oct. 8, 2020. The Embassy had a telephone network, in which everyone calls everyone else in a certain order. I am sure the implosions, which were successful, saved many lives. They weren’t evidently hostile but something could have happened to her in such a large crowd. I knew that many Embassy people took in Mexicans and donated things and sympathized. One of the first things that he did, he was very concerned and he was very interested and he wanted to make sure that appropriate assistance came from the United States. We weren’t even sure they would be able to be sent the first couple of days. This was an administrative decision and Nancy Reagan was going to take a million dollar check to Los Pinos [the Presidential palace]. As far as we knew, no staff person’s home or structure collapsed and no staff person was hurt badly. I then assured the American staff, all of whom had come to work, that their families were being informed and we shouldn’t be tying up the few Embassy lines that might still be operative. Most of the damage was focused on the historic downtown area of Cuauhtémoc. So you’d look on a block and three buildings would be standing, and two buildings, like collapsed teeth, would be down between the three standing buildings. In the aftermath of the 1985 earthquake, an early-alert earthquake warning system was established in Mexico City and other safety measures were enacted. (The disaster exposed the fact that government corruption had allowed for lax enforcement of building codes.) It had a magnitude of 8.1, and the number of people killed added up to 10,000 deaths. Ambassador Gavin was on his way to Europe on vacation and Deputy Chief of Mission [DCM] Morris Busby was in Northern Mexico on fisheries negotiations. So there was probably 100,000 tourists. We convinced him not to; another small task accomplished. More than 400 buildings collapsed and thousands more were damaged. Partly because of inadequate building codes, the … ©Copyright 1998-2021 Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training Stanley Zuckerman was a Counselor for Public Affairs for Mexico City from 1978 to 1983; he was interviewed by Kennedy beginning July 2004. He got the military to get him a helicopter, and he wanted to personally survey the damage in Mexico City, not without reason, again. Q: Well, then, if Gavin would make these statements, like obviously there was a problem of corruption which led to deaths, could the media mention that? We had dozens of calls and cables coming in from the Consulates, from all over Mexico. On September 19, 1985, at 7:17 A.M., a Richter magnitude 8.1 earthquake occurred on the Pacific coast of Mexico. There was one very frightening sight at Plaza de Tlateloco in Mexico City, where a large high-rise apartment building, probably a 15-story building, had just collapsed into a pile of bricks. Financially, we had already offered the Mexicans a variety of technical assistance from sniffer dogs to special jacks and engineering gear to try to rescue people from collapsed buildings. Then I took Gavin through some of these neighborhoods. To this day I can’t remember a word I said. The earlier quake left behind a … It was not totally closed. We had to put thousands of telegrams in a huge sack and have them carried to Laredo to be sent out from there. Some of these buildings were ready to fall down and they were dangerous. The number of Mexicans who perished is still controversial and probably will never be known for certain. We were trying to make them more professional, but they would editorialize right through that Gavin might have said there were 20,000 dead, but that couldn’t be the case because of whatever or whatever. Despite the fact that the disaster was one of the most powerful and destructive quakes ever to hit a populated area of the United States, ...read more, The 1964 Alaska earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America, struck Alaska’s Prince William Sound, about 74 miles southeast of Anchorage. Find a certified presentation designer for your next project on Prezi The 1985 Mexico City Earthquake. Mexico certainly did not plan for earthquakes…. We all flew to Mexico in this nearly empty plane spending a lot of hours in the air. We coordinated with the embassy. I didn’t think that was very strange. I really caught hell for that from the staff later because the Department neglected to tell anyone or inform our families. I think that on the second day shipments were already beginning to come in from the States. So they wouldn’t just report the facts and then put their editorial opinion on the editorial page, saying he shouldn’t have spoken this way or he didn’t have the facts corrected, it would all be interwoven in the same story. At around 7:19 a.m. on September 19, 1985, Mexico City, one of the world’s largest urban areas, was jolted by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake, one of the strongest to ever hit the area. Yes, it was not the Soviet Union. The result: The earthquake was amplified in strength. The Mexicans were profoundly dilatory about taking us up on our offers of help, and she wasn’t going to solve that problem. In 1985, Mexico City was the world’s largest urban area. I remember there was a big deal when we brought down to Mexican City an American company to implode buildings. "use strict";(function(){var insertion=document.getElementById("citation-access-date");var date=new Date().toLocaleDateString(undefined,{month:"long",day:"numeric",year:"numeric"});insertion.parentElement.replaceChild(document.createTextNode(date),insertion)})(); FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. Canadian Operation Name: (Mexico 1985) Canadian Operation Dates: 1985/09/19 – 1985/09/26. One of the things that was most important were inflatable bladders for water. We got on the plane and flew to California. So I don’t know exactly, but we had 25,000 officially registered. Robert S. Pastorino The Marine guards of course were there. It was very interesting, and Gavin was not without his role in all of that. Doug Watson suggested that I call everyone together at about 11 o’clock in the big, Embassy central patio. On September 19, 1985, the Mexico City area was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed at least 9,500 people. MEXICO CITY -- Many things changed after the devastating September 19, 1985 earthquake, measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, struck Mexico City. The 8.1-magnitude quake struck Mexico City on Sept. 19, 1985, followed by a 7.5-magnitude aftershock one day later. Problems became serious I think, for Gavin, in 1985, after the great earthquake in Mexico City, at a time that I was already in Ottawa. Tuesday's earthquake took place on the anniversary of a devastating earthquake that killed thousands in Mexico City in 1985. Mexico’s president, Miguel de la Madrid (1934-2012), was criticized for his government’s weak response to the disaster. It made it extremely difficult to read these stories or they would turn the story around. Mission Mandate: To airlift aid to Mexico City after a major earthquake. Though the epicenter for the 1985 earthquake was over 200 miles away from Mexico City, the disaster nearly flattened the capital. The president was saying that they had lost 10,000 people, and Gavin made a public statement that there were 20,000 or more who had died. On the other hand, on one of the first days, I called a Congressman in Los Angeles and asked him not to send a plane load of supplies, because they were not things that were needed. It is the third largest country in Latin America and has one of the largest populations—more than 100 million—making it the home of more Spanish speakers than any other ...read more. The foreign media would always cover these things, and then report it, and then sometimes the Mexican media would be able to report on what the foreign media had presented. Economic and Political Counselor. Elliot Abrams went from the State Department, I went from the NSC, Jim Rosebush was then Nancy Reagan’s Chief of Staff and Elaine Crispin was the First Lady’s press secretary. But the greatest credit goes to the thousands of Mexicans that dug those first few days, saving hundreds of people. Usually it was items that were needed, but sometimes Americans rush to clean out their basements and send whatever is available, and then they feel good and take a tax break. They would sometimes report his criticisms, but you would sort of lose the train of it before you got done. She was surrounded by this mob of people. John Gavin’s nomination by the President caused consternation and some disdain in the Mexican press and the public because he was identified as an actor. Excélsior would probably have 30 stories on the front page. The first implosions were the biggest event of the week. I think I mentioned his mother’s family had settled in California before California became a state. Fortunately, the quake was early enough in the morning that people weren’t yet in their offices. Blog. He had a tendency shared by almost all politically appointed ambassadors, including [Patrick] Lucey at times, to sometimes speak out on Mexican affairs as if they were presidents of Mexico rather than ambassadors to the country. So the DCM/ Charge officially appointed me. That quickly spread from earthquake-related things to environmentally related things, the fact that Mexico City was such a polluted city. Between Mexico City and the epicenter 250 miles to the southwest lie the Sierra Madre mountains dotted with remote towns. The most vivid memories of that night were of the Mexican people digging frantically in the piles of rubble, with no lights, no electricity, and no help from the government. And even when Presidential orders were given, they were sometimes not followed, or could not be followed. The First Lady’s motorcade pulled up and it looked actually very frightening. And, secondly, he observed that the pattern of destruction was very uneven, so while it was worse in some sections of the city than others, it was not uniform. It was just awfully difficult to try to read it. The deaths were so numerous that they had to use the baseball stadium as an outdoor morgue. Actually, that earthquake, and I think perhaps Gavin’s taking a very out-front role and really expressing the damage and so on, the follow up to that by the Mexican citizenry I think really led in some interesting and strange way to the ultimate defeat of the PRI several years later. The first thing, the highest priority, was to determine that all of the Embassy people were safe, that all official American personnel were safe. Within a few more hours I learned that this was probably going to happen so we turned to and set up the visit. As Mexico City is situated on an ancient lakebed plateau … This is the address to send it to. By the second day I think it could take airplanes because the runways were indeed not damaged. Mexico City is on a plateau surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. © 2021 A&E Television Networks, LLC. It did more damage to some of the Embassy’s residences, fortunately, not mine. What the aftershock did was make many people really panic. Of course, the U.S. television networks were telling the U.S. about the situation, and as usual it was vastly overblown, probably unnecessarily scaring Americans with friends or relatives in Mexico City. I don’t think I succeeded and he had to go to the Foreign Secretary, and finally to President de la Madrid. As an aftershock struck on September 20, the Mexican government then announced that it would be willing to accept help. PASTORINO: No official Americans and just a few American citizens. Learn how to update your browser. The Ambassador was to get on a plane that morning in Washington to go to Europe on his home leave. We also have to remember that there was a major aftershock thirty six hours later, about 7 o’clock at night the next day. Did you know? Ambassador Gavin had to go to de La Madrid on some issues in order that we could help effectively. At around 7:19 a.m. on September 19, 1985, Mexico City, one of the world’s largest urban areas, was jolted by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake, one of the strongest to ever hit the area. Some people found it a difficult place to live then, and in certain aspects —  traffic, noise, congestion, smog — it was. We had the Marines Residence, the Military Cemetery, the Defense Attaché’s Office, our military people at the Mexican Defense University. 1985: Mexico suffers devastating earthquake A massive earthquake has hit Mexico not far from its capital, Mexico City, causing untold casualties and widespread damage. It was the worst earthquake to hit Taiwan–where quakes are common due to its location in a seismically active ...read more, At 4:31 a.m. on January 17, 1994, a 6.7-magnitude quake struck the San Fernando Valley, a densely populated area of Los Angeles located 20 miles northwest of the city’s downtown. The airport runways were thought to be damaged on the first day. The earthquake was located about 110 kilometers northeast of Rome. And that a lot of that probably had to do with corruption, that maybe it was paid for that there should be 50 bags of sand and cement or whatever it was, but 15 bags went in, because it was more expensive to build things to code. Q: I get the sense here that throughout this whole conversation, the earthquake and the aftermath didn’t do much to cement good Mexican-U.S. relations. It was growing in population at a tremendous rate, and the economy was booming. This is a city and urban area of 20 million people in the valley, of which seven or eight million people were directly affected by the loss of services; the loss of electricity, water, sewage facilities, all of which began to cause disease problems. 2017 Puebla earthquake; Images for kids If she wanted to go to sleep it would have been in view of the elements. It was appropriate to speak publicly about issues relating to our interests, but dangerous to tell Mexicans how to manage their own affairs, at least in public. Otherwise I think it would have been much greater, because a lot of people were still out of the city or in small buildings and so on, not in these huge office towers. I don’t remember feeling sorry for myself. Any aid that we gave would be only a symbolic gesture, a drop in the bucket. A study in contrasts in american history study 1985 earthquake mexico city case. He was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy starting in March 1998. We had to give the Mayor of Mexico City a video presentation of how the implosions were done in the U.S. With more than 16 million residents, the city had been growing at a ludicrous rate – over 4% annually through the 1970s, with a growth rate of close to 40% in the city’s periphery. At first, the president rejected offers of international aid and played down the damage caused by the quake. The quake was centered off the Pacific coast of Michoacán, more than 200 miles west of Mexico City, the nation’s capital. As Mexico City is situated on an ancient lakebed plateau composed of mostly dirt and sand, the ground is less stable than bedrock, thus leading to major damage. Many worked most of the first 72 hours straight, either in the Embassy or outside. One threatened to jump off the balcony because of some issue. They were busy digging; it was dark. People were all over the First Lady. Once there, the earthquake tremors caused the sediment layers to oscillate. I took advantage to ask the chauffeur to go through various neighborhoods where we heard there was great damage. I remember helping develop a security plan of where to put the police lines to keep the people an appropriate distance away. Most of them came in to the Embassy to work. The digging went on amid continuing screams from within the fallen buildings. Mexico's president was Miguel de la Madrid, champion of a failed "moral renewal" campaign, and the city's mayor was Ramón Aguirre Velázquez, a man close to the president and a candidate to succeed him. https://www.history.com/topics/natural-disasters-and-environment/1985-mexico-city-earthquake. They needed that much space to lay out the corpses. Its epicenter was about 55 km (34 mi) south of the city of Puebla.The earthquake caused damage in the Mexican states of Puebla and Morelos and in the Greater Mexico City area, including the collapse of … The next day there were a number of lesser quakes, the strongest of which measured 7.8. It turned out I was in charge of the Embassy. Ambassador to Mexico, John Gavin, observing the resulting damage of the earthquake. We had to worry about the American School, the American Hospital, and other American institutions. He and Connie Gavin did a tremendous amount of fund-raising and charity work then and later in helping the victims…. Even my own sister and aged father in San Francisco weren’t sure of our condition for two days. She is not going to be able to do anything material. Responses from the Mexican community and foreign governments came swiftly. Earthquake shakes Mexico City On September 19, 1985, a powerful earthquake strikes Mexico City and leaves 10,000 people dead, 30,000 injured and thousands more homeless. Kramer, a. As you know, Mexico City airport is very close to the downtown, and thus very close to much of the damage. COWAL: Well, they would sometimes mention it, and that would cause problems, or they wouldn’t mention it, and that would cause problems, of course, with the embassy. PASTORINO: Mexico was then ending the Lopez-Portillo Administration, and entering into the six year term (sexenio) of Miguel De La Madrid. The control tower operation was down so the airport was closed. First Lady Nancy Reagan toured Mexico City with U.S. The phone system failed almost completely shortly thereafter. Assistance was just not flowing and not flowing fast enough, and people were without electricity and they were without water and they were without homes, and they began for the first time to organize themselves, in neighborhood groups and community groups, to do something about this. It was something she very much wanted to do. That was due to a tremendous effort on part of Embassy people to coordinate the activity, efforts which of course were invisible to the outside…. Of course, both of those facts, and they probably were facts, that he announced, were things that the Mexican government didn’t want to hear. A lot of people were saved that night by the digging, survivors being dug out minute by minute. Mexico City Earthquake: September 19, 1985, 1985 Mexico City Earthquake: Slow Government Response. You had one sentence. September 19, 2008 (The earthquake of 19-Sep-1985) One of the worst natural disasters in the Americas occurred 23 years ago today, when at 7:19 am local time an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 struck in the subduction zone off the west coast of Mexico. Mexico City Earthquake, 1985. I believe it was 30 or 40,000. She didn’t mingle with people in the way the Bushes did typically on their airplane. But we did worry that it wouldn’t go right and we’d kill some Mexicans standing and gawking. Five people were reported killed, many were injured, and extensive damage occurred in the vicinity of Norcia. 5,000–45,000 dead 30,000 injured The 1985 Mexico City Earthquakewas an earthquakethat happened in Mexico Cityon September 19, 1985. A lot of people hadn’t panicked the first day; the aftershock though brought many to the edge of desperation. But for the most part, American government officials acted with great courage. 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