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Devastated Small Town of Jojutla Shows Another Side of Mexico Quake Response

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Volunteers clean the debris from damaged houses in Jojutla de Juarez on Sept. 20, 2017, a day after a strong quake hit central Mexico. (Credit: ENRIQUE CASTRO SANCHEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Volunteers clean the debris from damaged houses in Jojutla de Juarez on Sept. 20, 2017, a day after a strong quake hit central Mexico. (Credit: ENRIQUE CASTRO SANCHEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

The rush of aid and the sense of solidarity that helped lift Mexico City following the deadly earthquake this week have spread outside the Mexican capital.

Convoys of volunteers have traveled to small towns in central Mexico that were closer to the epicenter of Tuesday’s 7.1-magnitude earthquake.

“We brought wheelbarrows, shovels, mallets. Everybody has hard hats, gloves and is ready to help,” said volunteer Jorge Carreño, who left Mexico City to go to the town of Jojutla.

Human chains spanning entire blocks worked into the night carrying buckets full of debris away from homes that collapsed in the small town in Morelos state, where at least 73 people died.

The earthquake turned the town’s iconic bell tower into debris and damaged its market, which is crucial to the local economy.

‘They lost everything’

Carrying clay saucepans with spicy meat and rice, Tania Hannz Santillan walked the streets of Jojutla feeding families who have lost everything. Some have left the town, but many have pulled their mattresses and couches from the rubble and are sleeping on sidewalks.

“Their homes can collapse anytime but they won’t leave. They hope they would be able to save something,” Hannz Santillan said.

The 24-year-old physiotherapist spent hours at a hall that is being used to distribute supplies.

People are sleeping inside heavily damaged homes, in their cars or at public basketball courts turned into shelters, she said.

“It’s the fear of leaving and coming back to see that someone came and took what’s theirs,” she said. “They lost everything.”

Mourners in Jojutla held wakes for those killed in the earthquake under tarpaulins, feet away from what’s left of their homes.

“It took most of the families who live in this town a lifetime to build those homes and now they’ve lost them,” said volunteer Daniela Martinez.

A flood of volunteers

Like many others in Mexico City, Carreño rushed to help when he saw collapsed buildings and worked for hours helping move chunks of concrete or distributing food to volunteers. The next day, he was turned away from several disaster zones. The crowds wanting to help had become so large they were overwhelming the rescue efforts.

Carreño and his friends loaded food, water and tools into their cars and drove to Jojutla. Many others have followed.

The number of soldiers and volunteers in Jojutla has gone up since President Enrique Peña Nieto visited on Wednesday, giving residents his word that federal resources would be directed to help those in need.

“People don’t trust the government, we rather deliver (donations) hand-to- hand,” Carreño said.

As more supplies continue to arrive in Jojutla in the coming days, volunteers will be taking them through the state of Morelos to smaller communities also affected by the earthquake. They will also begin work on the long process of helping families rebuild their homes.

“Right now there is a lot of euphoria, I hope we won’t forget them in a couple of days,” Carreño said.