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Death Toll Rises After Mexican Earthquake

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's go to Mexico now, a country that was hit with a major earthquake yesterday afternoon. The quake was a magnitude 7.1. It toppled buildings and has killed hundreds of people.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right. Journalist James Fredrick saw buildings in his own neighborhood collapse when the quake hit. He joins us now from Mexico City via Skype. Good morning, James.

JAMES FREDRICK: Good morning.

KELLY: Describe what your neighborhood and the city look like today. The images coming in of city blocks reduced to rubble are pretty stunning.

FREDRICK: It was very eerie being in the city today, especially once the sun went down. Large parts of the city, a majority of residents, actually lost power for a long time. So some parts of the city looked totally empty. And then you got to other parts of the city where buildings had collapsed, and there were huge crowds of people trying to help. But it's just this almost indescribable feeling of this building that, you know, you had just seen, it was there, and from one moment to the next it was just totally flattened. So it was - it was a very scary situation.

KELLY: And you've been out speaking to those people in the streets, the ones who are trying to help, the ones who have maybe lost their homes. How are you - how are they doing? What are you hearing?

FREDRICK: So yeah, last night I went to the site of a apartment building that had collapsed. It was a five-story building and was totally flattened. And I spoke to a woman named Linda Suza (ph) who lived in the building next door. She had been forced to evacuate her house. She was worried about friends in her building next door that had collapsed, didn't know what was happening to them, and she was very unsure of what was going to happen next for her family. Here's what she had to say.

LINDA SUZA: (Through interpreter) We don't know what to do. We are scared, horrified. We don't know what to do with the house. Civil Protection says it could be three days that we have to sleep here in limbo. If our building is very damaged, uninhabitable, we won't be able to live here and we don't know what we'll do.

FREDRICK: So Linda is one of probably thousands of people who - in Mexico City who are going to be in this limbo now of buildings that have to be condemned because they are no longer safe.

KELLY: Yeah. And we're also seeing reports of fires, of ruptured gas lines. Are - what kind of hazards are you tracking there today?

FREDRICK: So it seems like most of those have hazards have been minimized now, but especially in the - in the 45 buildings that collapsed here in Mexico City, people are still being very cautious about gas leaks. So it is now protocol that, you know, no one smokes a cigarette, lights anything. They're asking people not to use electronics near these sites, but it seems those risks have been minimized. The main risk right now, the main thing that's keeping people on edge, is the possibility of an aftershock. There has not been a strong aftershock yet, but - but that's what really has people worried.

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask. You know, the last time we were talking about a big earthquake in Mexico was - was several days ago, and we were talking about this big quake off the coast that was near Guatemala. So much further south. Do we know if there's any connection? Is this, you know, just some kind of very delayed aftershock, extreme period of seismic activity where you are?

FREDRICK: It seems like there is not a direct connection between these two earthquakes. It seems like given the - given the two points where they hit, there does not seem to be a direct correlation, but it's hard to say that for sure. The thing about Mexico City is that Mexico City actually doesn't sit on a fault line. The thing that makes Mexico City a uniquely vulnerable place in the world for earthquakes is that it was built on a lake bed so the soil is very soft. So the neighborhoods that were hit worst are neighborhoods that have very soft soil. So even if an earthquake hits far away from Mexico City, it can still be rocked because it sits on that soft soil.

KELLY: That's reporter James Fredrick joining via Skype from Mexico City. Thanks, James.

FREDRICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.