News Latin America The forgotten memorial of Alvaro Obregon 286, the symbol of the 2017...

The forgotten memorial of Alvaro Obregon 286, the symbol of the 2017 earthquake tragedy

In Mexico, the earth shakes more than a thousand times a year. Any Mexican who has experienced one knows the feeling: adrenaline, vertigo and dizziness while he feels the emptiness in his feet. On September 19, when a 7.4 earthquake shook Mexico City again on the anniversary of the 1985 and 2017 earthquakes, a group demonstrating on Alvaro Obregon street in front of number 286 added another sensation: reliving the trauma of five years ago when they lost 49 family members at that same point. “My brother lived or felt something similar right here. With the difference that I was in a safe part of the street, he was in that building and everyone knows what happened in there,” says Hiram Navarro Gutierrez. He was part of the mass to remember the victims who died when the office building on this street collapsed. The group took advantage of the occasion to plant their own memorial and demand a housing project next to a natural disaster prevention center, in what today is a vacant lot barely decorated with candles and family flowers. Its expropriation in 2018 was intended to build a monument for the deceased, but five years later the project remains uncertain and they wonder: “what will happen to that place?”

Jesus Emanuel Navarro Gutierrez died when the earthquake caused the collapse of the building where he worked, at 1:14 p.m. on September 19, 2017. Exactly five years later, and at practically the same time, his brother contemplated the emptiness left behind. that structure in Colonia Hipodromo when a new tremor surprised him next to the Colectivo de las Victimas. “Every year we bring him a candle, some flowers, something so that he knows that we remember him,” he says in a call from his native Guanajuato. On this occasion and to commemorate the five-year anniversary, the group of families of the deceased who gathered on that date planted a yellow structure in the shape of a 49 in front of the land, an improvised memorial to mark the symbol of the 2017 tragedy. Several years have passed and nothing has been done except the administrative part for the expropriation. With a wall with their names on it, a center to train rescuers or something for future generations to know what happened, we’d settle for it,” he adds.

Members of a rescue group pay tribute to the victims of the earthquake.
Guillermo Gutierrez (Getty Images)

Six months after the collapse, the local government published a decree to expropriate that piece of land stained by the indignation of an entire country. A total of 46 million pesos was paid to the owners, it was declared as public utility land and the construction of a “memorial park and, where appropriate, a space with government services, in order to improve the infrastructure and equipment of the zone”, according to the document. The gazette also underlined that the objective of the expropriation is to “satisfy the collective needs arising from the seismic phenomenon” and “favor a culture of resilience in Mexico City.” However, the families of the victims refused a memorial that they consider “unnecessary and useless.”

Jorge Gomez, one of the representatives of the victims of the earthquake in Alvaro Obregon 286, assures that there is already a memorial, the one they planted last Monday. “That’s more than enough,” he says. What he and the 44 families he represents (five have distanced themselves from the group on this issue) demand of the Government of Mexico City is that this property be used to found a risk mitigation center in the event of natural disasters. . “We want a rescue school there. It would be nicer to know that the victims who died in that place did not do it for free, but left behind a more aggressive culture of civil protection”, he proclaims.

During the 2017 earthquake, Alvaro Obregon’s number 286 not only became the site with the most accumulated victims of the 370 deaths that day. He also witnessed the chaos regarding the organization of the rescue of the bodies and the communication with the anguished families who waited entire days for news out in the open. “During 2017 they were exceeded, we saw it. After 37 years since the 1985 earthquake, which was the most devastating in the country’s history, there is hardly any progress in this area,” says Gomez, using the 2017 earthquake as an example. “The soldiers arrived without pickaxes, without shovels, without bottles of water and with nothing. Civil society took command of the rescue because of that,” he adds.

View of the outskirts of the land where a building collapsed on Alvaro Obregon street, in September 2021.
View of the outskirts of the land where a building collapsed on Alvaro Obregon street, in September 2021. Eloisa Sanchez de Alba (Getty Images)

In addition to the prevention center, Gomez adds that there are enough square meters to build homes for families left economically vulnerable after losing a head of family in the rubble of those offices. He, who lost his wife there inside him, had to take his children out of private school and pay for psychologists. “I don’t want my life to be resolved, only that the corresponding compensation be made. We cannot continue to spend more time because the wounds continue to open, ”he underlines.

Gomez narrates that after the expropriation they were in contact with the head of the Government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, to find out the fate of the land. They were referred to the Commission for the Reconstruction of the capital, and they were in contact with the director, Jabnely Maldonado. The future architectural project for the Alvaro Obregon 286 memorial would go out to tender and would be managed by the city’s College of Architects. Gomez insists that the association’s vice president, Oscar Sangines, and his team assured him that the memorial was compatible with the rescue center and the homes they were asking for. However, the College of Architects is not aware of nor has it approved any project for that direction, according to what the director Ana Itzel Lopez Santacruz has indicated to this newspaper.

Merilyn Romero, legal representative of the Government of Mexico City in the Commission for Reconstruction, points out that the agency has no obligation to build houses in that place. “It will not have any other functionality because it is already published in the decree. It’s like a law,” she explains. In addition, the Commission has indicated that the space is inappropriate for residential use. They add that the future of Alvaro Obregon 286 was proposed in a contest organized by the Ministry of Urban Development and Housing, but that this “did not materialize.” The agency excuses itself by recalling that the current administration has given priority to rebuilding the homes of the affected families and that it still has more than 3,000 to attend to of the 22,187 that were piled up in applications five years ago.

Rescuers in the Alvaro Obregon 286 building, during the search for survivors of the September 2017 earthquake.
Rescuers in the Alvaro Obregon 286 building, during the search for survivors of the September 2017 earthquake. Carlos Tischler (Getty Images)

For Suzanna Castillo, another representative of the Collective of Victims, the battle is not lost and she maintains that “the law can be changed.” “An institute for the prevention of natural disasters is important, because we know and experience how the authorities are not trained to deal with such an event,” she emphasizes. On her side, Gomez insists that time passes and the families continue to worry that the fate of that site remains in the hands of speculators. “Our relatives died in that place and for the Government it is very attractive because of the place where it is, and we do not want them to turn it into another shopping center,” she laments.

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Source: EL PAIS

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