September 22, 2017 / 5:51 PM / a year ago

Thirty-two years after quake, angry Mexicans still wait for homes

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - When Tuesday’s earthquake struck Mexico, Martha Mejia watched the tin walls of her tiny shack quiver and remembered the smell of death that hung in the air of shattered apartment blocks 32 years before.

“I wanted to scream because I had lived this all before. I wanted to run out and scream,” said the 64-year-old Mejia, whose home was destroyed in a 1985 quake that devastated Mexico City. “Back then, I was strong. But this time I felt it more.”

The 1985 earthquake, which killed around 5,000 people, was a defining moment for the Mexican capital.

Three decades on, hundreds of its victims are still living in hovel encampments across the sprawling city of 20 million, waiting for long-promised government-subsidized homes - and now the latest quake has made thousands more people homeless.

Mejia’s apartment building in the Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood was shaken to the ground in 1985. Today, she lives in one of the encampments with her husband, her daughter and a granddaughter.

Their 10-foot by 20-foot hovel in the Lindavista district in the north of the capital has a double bed, a bunk bed and a stove.

“Supposedly this place was going to be temporary, but that temporary has been my whole life,” she said.

A heavy rain pounded on the tin roof of the shack as Mejia watched TV coverage of this week’s earthquake and wept. Tuesday’s tremor - which struck on the anniversary of the 1985 quake - killed close to 300 people.

“The time has come for me to give up all illusions,” Mejia said. “Now with this other earthquake, how many people will be left homeless? They are going to make new shelters and we are going to stay in the same one.”

According to the leaders of the Lindavista camp, its ramshackle shacks are home to around 750 people, divided into roughly 250 families.

There are almost 200 children who are the grandchildren of those originally resettled here, according to local leaders.

At least six such camps exist in the capital. Mexico City’s housing institute said that since 2016, they have delivered 173 homes to victims of the 1985 quake and expected to hand over 120 more before the end of next year.

Data on how many homes have been delivered in total since 1985 was not immediately available.


With the race for July’s presidential race heating up, President Enrique Pena Nieto, the mayor of Mexico City and governors from the affected states rushed to the scene of the recent devastation, making promises to help those affected.

Political parties have vied to outdo each other with offers to donate campaign funds to disaster victims. But there is deep skepticism among Mexicans that they will see enough aid.

Jeanete Morales, 41, cleans offices in the city and comes home every night to the Lindavista shanty town she first moved into with her mom when she was nine years old.

Their three-story apartment building was severely damaged in 1985 and they were soon forced to leave and brought to the camp. They were told they would only be there for two weeks.

Now married with four children, Morales still lives at the camp. Her mother died eight years ago. “She died believing she would get her house,” Morales said. “It makes you so mad. You feel so impotent.”

Morales said officials at the city’s housing institute said they already gave her mother an apartment.

Alfredo Villegas, one of the leaders of the camp, said Morales’ mother had not been given a home despite her name appearing on what he said was a government list of those who had been given homes. The list he produced could not be immediately authenticated by Reuters.

“The questions is: where are those apartments?” Villegas said. He said it seemed that city officials were fraudulently selling homes to others.

The cost of the government-subsidized homes depends on a victim’s income but is often in the range of 250,000-300-000 pesos ($14,000-$17,000), Villegas said.

The housing institute did not immediately respond to request for comment. Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera has said the problem lies with how the institute delivers housing to the loose organizations that represent the people with a claim to the subsidized housing.

At least 2,500 people are sleeping in the streets or in their cars in Mexico City after Tuesday’s 7.1 magnitude tremor collapsed dozens of buildings and damaged hundreds more.

Thousands of others have lost their homes in the states of Morelos, Puebla and the state of Mexico. Many more in Oaxaca and Chiapas lost their homes in the quake that hit southern Mexico on Sept. 7.

Hundreds of millions of dollars will be required for reconstruction in Mexico City, according to the mayor.

The home of taxi driver Emanuel Jardon, 60, was severely damaged by the collapse of a neighboring building on Tuesday. Wearing a helmet, he cursed politicians as he cleared debris from his home.

“It is a vile lie. Right now as the campaigns begin...they come to see us, to supervise, but the months will pass and they will forget,” he said. “I’m sorry to be rude, but they suck.”

Reporting by Noe Torres; Writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell

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