September 27, 2017 / 5:26 PM / 21 days ago

Hope evaporating, a grim wait for relatives after Mexico quake

Relatives cry in front of a collapsed building at Alvaro Obregon Avenue in the Condesa neighborhood, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Relatives waiting on Wednesday outside an office block that collapsed last week in Mexico City’s earthquake have resigned themselves to the likelihood that their loved ones did not survive, as a stench of death seeped from the rubble.

Soldiers, firefighters and volunteers have worked day and night since the Sept. 19 quake to find those trapped. In the past few days the search has narrowed to a handful of buildings. The focus is on the office block in the chic Roma district, where over 30 people are still missing.

Authorities say 337 people have been confirmed dead so far in the 7.1 magnitude quake, Mexico’s most deadly in a generation.

“Sadly, we have to be realistic, what we want are our relatives’ bodies at the very least,” said Martin Estrada, 51, whose son is believed to buried under the building.

Like others waiting for news of their relatives, Estrada was critical of a lack of information from authorities. He said the rescue had been too slow to save his son.

One rescue worker at the site said a putrid smell pervading the air was evidence bodies were still in the building.

The earthquake, and one a few days earlier that killed around 100 people, have become political issues for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, stretched to capacity by the disasters and coming under increasing criticism.

“We blame the government for their deaths,” Estrada said.

The earthquakes caused $2 billion in damage to schools, housing and heritage sites including churches, ministers said on Wednesday. Private estimates range from $2 billion to $8 billion.

Relatives cry in front of a collapsed building at Alvaro Obregon Avenue in the Condesa neighborhood, after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Pena Nieto said funds set aside for disaster recovery “were not infinite” and warned financing would have to be reassigned in the 2018 budget, which is currently under discussion in Congress.

At least 190,000 buildings have been seriously damaged across Mexico by the quakes and storms in recent weeks, Pena Nieto said on Tuesday. A senior official said there was a collapse risk at 1,500 buildings in the capital.

SMOKING MOUNTAIN

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Earlier in the day, smoke, ash and red-hot rocks belched from the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City, heightening anxiety for many locals, although officials said there was no imminent threat.

Popocatepetl, whose name means “Smoking Mountain” in the native Nahuatl language, showered a village at its base with ash, shook with the force of a 1.8 magnitude earthquake and spewed flaming rocks to distances of up to 1 km (0.62 mile), the National Disaster Prevention Center (Cenapred) said.

The earthquake had its epicenter just a few miles from the volcano and “probably pushed” the volcanic activity, Carlos Valdez, director of Cenapred, told Reuters.

However, eruptions at the volcano have become relatively common since it reactivated 23 years ago.

On a clear day, Popocatepetl looms on the horizon of Mexico City 44 miles (71 km) away, and volcanic ash occasionally blows into the city.

Winds blew the ash on Wednesday towards Ecatzingo, a village under the volcano that suffered damage to its church and dozens of houses in last week’s quake.

Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez, Writing by Frank Jack Daniel, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien

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