MEXICO CITY – The last body known to be trapped in rubble has been recovered two weeks after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake killed at least 369 people in Mexico, officials said Wednesday.
The body was recovered from a collapsed office building in central Mexico City where a steadily dwindling number of families kept vigil as an international assortment of rescuers worked a massive rubble heap.
Jumpsuit-clad rescuers on Wednesday still clambered over what remained of the seven-floor office building, which counted an employment agency and accounting firm among its tenants.
A massive crane sat idle under gray skies and drizzle as workers began breaking down large tents that had housed relatives of those trapped. A tent set up by the Attorney General’s Office to take DNA samples from relatives still stood beside them.
“Honestly, it’s sad, for the families, for everyone,” said Yosh Corte, a volunteer from the city of Leon who had been at the site since shortly after the Sept. 19 temblor. He lost friends in Mexico’s 1985 earthquake, which killed thousands. “It’s difficult for everyone.”
Corte was one of the few remaining volunteers at a site that once swarmed with hundreds of people. On Wednesday, most of those remaining were military, police or city workers. A traffic sign above him still held a black and white sign, wrinkled by rain, seeking information on missing Michelle Fernanda Castillo Rayon, a 23-year-old who worked on the building’s fourth floor.
Her body was one of the 49 later found in the collapsed building.
Roberto Campa, the Interior Department’s deputy secretary for human rights, said via Twitter that the bodies recovered there included 19 women and 30 men.
Trinidad Gutierrez was working about 50 yards away in a piano showroom when the quake occurred. The terrible shaking drove him and others across the street to a fountain featuring a statue of Bacchus just in time to see the office building crumble.
“The dust made it to all of this,” he said with a sweep of his hand. “It completely clouded with dust.”
Tarps still covered the sidewalk beside him, where workers had slept on thin pads. Nearby a man rested on makeshift bunkbeds while still other tarps covered stockpiled water and 5-gallon buckets.
Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said in a news conference that the office building was the last place in the city where bodies were being recovered.
“We have no reports of missing persons,” he said. Mancera added that all bodies had been identified. He said 16 people injured in the quake remained hospitalized.
The national Civil Defense chief, Luis Felipe Puente, tweeted that the official federal death toll had risen to 369. Of those, 228 were in the capital.
Corte, the volunteer, was not convinced that more people would not be found beneath what was still practically four stories of rubble.
“It’s that they can’t say something that isn’t proven,” he said. “How can you know if in the bottom part there are or not?”
For that reason, Mancera said that cleanup at the site would proceed cautiously and forensic investigators from the prosecutor’s office would remain at the location.
He said it was impossible to say that authorities would not find someone who was not reported as missing until collapsed buildings have been completely cleared.
“We’re all going through a time of unhappiness because of what happened in Mexico City,” Mancera said. “It’s as if no one right now can relax or have a normal life. It has altered the city’s life and obviously what we are looking for is to return to normal.”
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