- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

COLIMA, Mexico, Jan. 22 (UPI) — Aftershocks rippled through western Mexico Wednesday as emergency workers and dazed residents dug their possessions from the rubble of collapsed buildings and searched for anyone who might remain buried one day after a major earthquake measuring nearly 8.0 on the Richter scale rocked the area.

The death toll from the Tuesday night quake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale stood at 25 late Wednesday and was expected to rise as the search as digging among the debris continued in and around the city of Colima. More than 300 were injured.

Aftershocks continued to unnerve residents as well as the emergency workers and military troops who were rushed to the area after President Vicente Fox declared a state of emergency. There were no reports of significant damage caused by the aftershocks, the largest of which measured 5.8 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"This shallow earthquake occurred in a seismically active zone near the coast of central Mexico," seismologists with the USGS concluded. "The earthquake occurred near the juncture of three tectonic plates."

Two of the three plates are now being "consumed" by the third plate, which has made the region prone to major quakes in the past, including an 8.4 quake in 1932 and a 8.0 shakers in 1985 and 1995.

The fact that the Sept. 19, 1995, quake killed nearly 10,000 people in Mexico City remained on the minds of Colima residents who were considering themselves fortunate.

"This is bad but it is not as bad as when thousands of people were killed in 1985," noted one man to a KCBS television station reporter on the scene.

Visions of that devastating 1985 quake had Mexican-American residents of California anxiously calling Spanish-language radio stations seeking news, or trying to get through to relatives on telephone lines that while jammed, nonetheless were up and running.

The American Red Cross set up a relief fund in Los Angeles and urged Americans to give money rather than food and clothing because it was more efficient to purchase necessary supplies in Mexico rather than ship them to the scene.

California's eight urban search-and-rescue crews were put on alert to fly to Colima if needed to assist the 50 rescue teams from Mexico's Collapsed Building Search and Rescue Brigade that were mobilized by the Mexican government.

"We're geared up 24 hours a day and seven days a week," Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Tom Barau told television station KNBC.

The 62-member Los Angeles search-and-rescue team, which assisted at the World Trade Center scene, the 1994 federal building in Oklahoma City and other disasters, had not been called into action as of Wednesday night, however Gov. Gray Davis said the state's resources were at Mexico's disposal.

"Mexico is not only our largest trading partner, but our good friend and ally," said Davis, who made the offer through Mexican diplomats on the West Coast. "Ambassador Martha Lara and Consul General (Jose Luis) Soberanes have expressed their gratitude for our offer and will talk with President Fox to determine how best we can help."


(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

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