Nancy Reagan’s trip was I think her first foray into a foreign policy role. The city has more, From the stone cities of the Maya to the might of the Aztecs, from its conquest by Spain to its rise as a modern nation, Mexico boasts a rich history and cultural heritage spanning more than 10,000 years. It made it extremely difficult to read these stories or they would turn the story around. The leading newspaper of the day was called Excélsior, and it was truly an awful newspaper. Mexico City was still the political, geographical, and cultural center of the country. On the morning of September 19, 1985, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake hit the western states of Mexico and including Mexico City. I remember we let every American, tourist or resident, come to the Embassy and write a one-page telegram. The Marine guards of course were there. Responses from the Mexican community and foreign governments came swiftly. Ambassador to Mexico, John Gavin, observing the resulting damage of the earthquake. Your browser (Internet Explorer 7 or lower) is out of date. There was no time for an advance visit or anything. Finally, after some trying, some genius in our Communications section patched me through to Washington through Louisiana, and Atlanta. Did you know? He landed and said to the press that he thought there might be more than 20,000 deaths. On this day in 1985, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake rocked Mexico City and its surrounding environs at 9:17 a.m. EDT (7:17 a.m. local time). The government’s response to the tragedy was unthinkable. That one wiped out much of the remaining communications and then collapsed many buildings that had been severely damaged the day before. What the aftershock did was make many people really panic. But I was more at ease because Ambassador Gavin and Busby were both back. First Lady Nancy Reagan toured Mexico City with U.S. There was one very frightening sight at Plaza de Tlateloco in Mexico City, where a large high-rise apartment building, probably a 15-story building, had just collapsed into a pile of bricks. Between Mexico City and the epicenter 250 miles to the southwest lie the Sierra Madre mountains dotted with remote towns. MEXICO CITY -- Many things changed after the devastating September 19, 1985 earthquake, measuring 8.1 on the Richter scale, struck Mexico City. I told the State Department Operations Center that I was speaking on behalf of the Chargé and that the American staff was fine. I went back inside the Embassy and upstairs to my fourth floor office after the twenty minutes like I had planned. I was amazed. Mexico City Earthquake: September 19, 1985, 1985 Mexico City Earthquake: Slow Government Response. On the other position. I think we actually got out in several places. But for the most part, American government officials acted with great courage. The president was saying that they had lost 10,000 people, and Gavin made a public statement that there were 20,000 or more who had died. They were digging with their hands, or small shovels, but with no heavy equipment, by the light of automobile headlights. AID sent many of them because it was in charge of our disaster relief at that time. John Gavin’s nomination by the President caused consternation and some disdain in the Mexican press and the public because he was identified as an actor. He had a tendency shared by almost all politically appointed ambassadors, including [Patrick] Lucey at times, to sometimes speak out on Mexican affairs as if they were presidents of Mexico rather than ambassadors to the country. The 8.1-magnitude quake struck Mexico City on Sept. 19, 1985, followed by a 7.5-magnitude aftershock one day later. They needed that much space to lay out the corpses. They would sometimes report his criticisms, but you would sort of lose the train of it before you got done. We got on an Air Force I airplane. The number of Mexicans who perished is still controversial and probably will never be known for certain. The powerful earthquake killed more than 10,000 and left another 30,000 others injured and as many as a quarter of a million people homeless. They weren’t evidently hostile but something could have happened to her in such a large crowd. It was a Foreign Service Officer who had to load these sacks and take an airplane at night. Robert S. Pastorino describes the disaster and the embassy’s response to it. We convinced him not to; another small task accomplished. There was also not much of a line between editorial opinion of the newspaper and the reporting on the news. That second night I was in the Embassy until 1 or 2 in the morning. I don’t remember feeling sorry for myself. The 1985 Mexico City Earthquake. Kramer, a. Earthquake shakes Mexico City On September 19, 1985, a powerful earthquake strikes Mexico City and leaves 10,000 people dead, 30,000 injured and thousands more homeless. And even when Presidential orders were given, they were sometimes not followed, or could not be followed. The most vivid memories of that night were of the Mexican people digging frantically in the piles of rubble, with no lights, no electricity, and no help from the government. We just sent advance teams directly to Mexico to get this set up on about 48-hour’s notice and coordinated with the embassy to work out a schedule which mainly involved the First Lady arriving, going to Los Pinos, meeting with de la Madrid, giving him the check, touring some sites of devastation around the city, meeting with the embassy staff and saying some words with them and then flying on to California. But then I began to see the destruction from the windows and we began to get reports that parts of the city had been seriously damaged, with many major buildings downed. ZUCKERMAN:  It was again a period when a chargé ran the Embassy, and John Ferch had gone on to Cuba as head of our mission there and later became our Ambassador in Honduras, and there was a rather long gap before John Gavin, Reagan’s appointee as Ambassador, was confirmed and arrived on the job. We coordinated with the embassy. Ambassador Gavin had to go to de La Madrid on some issues in order that we could help effectively. Its epicenter was about 55 km (34 mi) south of the city of Puebla.The earthquake caused damage in the Mexican states of Puebla and Morelos and in the Greater Mexico City area, including the collapse of … Problems became serious I think, for Gavin, in 1985, after the great earthquake in Mexico City, at a time that I was already in Ottawa. Ambassador Gavin was on his way to Europe on vacation and Deputy Chief of Mission [DCM] Morris Busby was in Northern Mexico on fisheries negotiations. To this day, Embassy people remember that event and the talk I gave. It was very interesting, and Gavin was not without his role in all of that. Interested in Recording Your Oral History, Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training. So they would have everything on the front page with about three lines of type, and then every story would continue in a different part of the paper. From Simple English Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia The 1985 Mexico City Earthquake was an earthquake that happened in Mexico City on September 19, 1985. Within the next couple hours, we made sure the local Mexican staff was ok. COWAL: Well, they would sometimes mention it, and that would cause problems, or they wouldn’t mention it, and that would cause problems, of course, with the embassy. I think it was on Day 3 that Ambassador Gavin sent me to the airport to see if we could get certain goods released. Mexico’s president, Miguel de la Madrid (1934-2012), was criticized for his government’s weak response to the disaster. That quickly spread from earthquake-related things to environmentally related things, the fact that Mexico City was such a polluted city. In fact, some of the neighborhoods close to it were badly damaged. It turned out I was in charge of the Embassy. NARRATOR: When the earthquake occurred in 1985 the initial waves did in fact weaken as they approached the center of the country. Some people found it a difficult place to live then, and in certain aspects —  traffic, noise, congestion, smog — it was. © 2021 A&E Television Networks, LLC. Mexico City earthquake of 1985. Of course, both of those facts, and they probably were facts, that he announced, were things that the Mexican government didn’t want to hear. On September 19, 1985, the Mexico City area was struck by a devastating earthquake that killed at least 9,500 people. ), Stanley Zuckerman  Excélsior would probably have 30 stories on the front page. I went to the airport to meet the Chargé d’Affaires, Morris Busby, who was returning from Northern Mexico. I stayed in the Embassy the day and night of the first quake until about 4:00 a.m. But the greatest credit goes to the thousands of Mexicans that dug those first few days, saving hundreds of people. The result: The earthquake was amplified in strength. In the beginning we prepared sit-reps [situation reports, i.e., cables done during a crisis] on an hourly basis. A lot of countries don’t plan for earthquakes. I remember doing up the format. In addition, 250,000 people lost their homes, and … They had spent a lot of time together as children. It was all got up in a few days as you might imagine right after the earthquake. I was in the Embassy in my office at 7:30 in the morning. One is of two American Embassy officials who attempted to save lives of people caught in downed buildings. "use strict";(function(){var insertion=document.getElementById("citation-access-date");var date=new Date().toLocaleDateString(undefined,{month:"long",day:"numeric",year:"numeric"});insertion.parentElement.replaceChild(document.createTextNode(date),insertion)})(); FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. It was my job. I was one of the few people in the building. As an aftershock struck on September 20, the Mexican government then announced that it would be willing to accept help. She is not going to be able to put back a building or dig out civilians or something like that. “Here come the Americans to blow up our Mexican buildings.” Would it work? A study in contrasts in american history study 1985 earthquake mexico city case. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! and when it stopped I decided to leave the building, have a cup of coffee for twenty minutes, and then go back to work. The earlier quake left behind a … I told them we would need them in the Embassy, but their personal considerations were clearly more important…. I was lucky in that the phones were still working and I called home and found that my family and the house were unharmed. It was still peaceful. And neither one of these figures probably counted Mexican-Americans or Mexicans that have family in the States. It was 30 years ago today that at least 5,000 people — some estimates put the number at closer to 10,000, others at four times that — died in the powerful Mexico City earthquake of 1985. The Embassy had ten or twelve other physical facilities around the city. His mother was born in Mexico, in Sonora. Nancy Reagan’s briefing was very brief and not deeply substantive and she mainly spent the flights both to Mexico and California closeted in her state room. Quakes, most of them minor, and none as strong as the one in 1985, remained a constant feature of life in Mexico City. So the DCM/ Charge officially appointed me. Minister Counselor for Public Affairs in Mexico City from 1985 to 1989. Then I went back to the airport at 3 a.m. to meet Ambassador Gavin. Mission Mandate: To airlift aid to Mexico City after a major earthquake. These was a great crowd of people milling around. During this second period of mine in Mexico, 1985-1986, Mexico City was still peaceful. A lot of people hadn’t panicked the first day; the aftershock though brought many to the edge of desperation. Partly because of inadequate building codes, the … ©Copyright 1998-2021 Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training Mexico City is on a plateau surrounded by mountains and volcanoes. We landed in Mexico and went through this program which involved going to Los Pinos, giving the check, having a little talk with de la Madrid, and going around touring a number of sites. It had a magnitudeof 8.1, and the number of people killed added up to 10,000 deaths. Considerable damage and injuries were reported in other parts of the Umbria region. I think that on the second day shipments were already beginning to come in from the States. The Mexicans were profoundly dilatory about taking us up on our offers of help, and she wasn’t going to solve that problem. He got a helicopter and he flew over and counted the number of buildings down, and many of them were apartment buildings. That was maybe for the first time really since the Aztecs, a questioning of the central authority and of the power structure, by individuals and by groups of nongovernmental organizations, civil society, that really began to emerge. I remember the back wall of my secretary’s apartment just fell out into the back yard. Any aid that we gave would be only a symbolic gesture, a drop in the bucket. That was my view. National Security Council’s Staff Director for Latin America from 1985 to 1986. On the other hand, on one of the first days, I called a Congressman in Los Angeles and asked him not to send a plane load of supplies, because they were not things that were needed. Gavin felt that sometimes you had to deal publicly with them…. In response, citizens organized their own rescue brigades. As far as we knew, no staff person’s home or structure collapsed and no staff person was hurt badly. As you know, Mexico City airport is very close to the downtown, and thus very close to much of the damage. Q: Well, then, if Gavin would make these statements, like obviously there was a problem of corruption which led to deaths, could the media mention that? PASTORINO: Mexico was then ending the Lopez-Portillo Administration, and entering into the six year term (sexenio) of Miguel De La Madrid. Oct. 8, 2020. More than 80,000 people perished as a result of the quake, while an estimated 4 million more, On April 18, 1906, an earthquake and subsequent fires devastated San Francisco, California, leaving more than 3,000 people dead and destroying more than 28,000 buildings.