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Disaster and society: The 1985 Mexican earthquakes José da Cruz

Lund University Press

Lund University Press Box 141 S-221 00 Lund Sweden Art nr 20282 ISSN 0346-6787 ISBN 91-7966- 229-3 Kunds University Press ISBN 0´86238-329-3 Chartwell Bratt © 1993 José da Cruz Printed in Sweden Lund

Disaster and society: The 1985 Mexican earthquakes


Introducing this book First, I have to apologize for my miserable English, much worse when this book was written. Then I had to undergo three rites de passage: to conquer the PhD status, to write a thesis in English because of academic strategy, and to do it in a cruel, nasty and absolutely strange device, the computer. Since 1990, the digital manuscript jumped from computer to computer and, as a consequence, parts of the text and several illustrations disappeared in the cyberspace, but I rewrote the lacking pages. Under this task, the language poverty and the plethora of errors shocked me and I attempted to do some betterments. The whole book indeed deserves a deep revision instead of patchwork, but the content is yet twenty years old and research findings and social changes did not stop. This work is nevertheles a testimony. I put the warning “DAMAGED� instead of the vanished tables and figures, avoiding in this way to pick away possible references from the text, a troublesome endeavour. What you see is what you get...

Backside of the printed edition On 19 September 1985 Mexico City was struck by a major earthquake and as a consequence 10 000 people died in what has to be considered as one of the worst disasters of this century. Disaster and normality are frequently considered as opposite states. This work shows how they are rather two different aspects of the relationship man/environment. Normality conditions the occurrence of damages as well as the capacity for recovery in a society. Current views on disaster are often based on myths shaped by the mass media. The role of the media is therefore decissive for the course that events will take after a disaster. Disaster related concepts and research findings are discussed in this book. In the light of this discussion the case of Mexico City and the 1985 earthquake is analyzed.

Introduction Il n'y a pas de geographie sans drame Jean Dresch

On l9 September 1985 Mexico was struck by a major tremor. One day later an aftershock aggravated the situation. Losses were heavy, primarily in the capital, Mexico City. Official figures stated that 10 000 people lost their lives and 40 000 were injured. One of the worst disasters of the century was a fact. The recovery took a long time and both people and authorities devoted many efforts towards it. I lived then in the country and followed the development of the disaster. Mexico is a country with a very long history of catastrophes and 1985 was in no way the first time Mexico City suffered destruction by a quake. In spite of the historical experience the damages were extended. A disaster is a breakdown in normal situations, nevertheless, the aftermath of the disaster must essentially be shaped by the former societal normality. Of course, damages can hardly be due to the sole action of dark forces of destiny. The present study aims to present a perspective on disasters as societal events, and it provides a framework dealing both with general theories about hazard and vulnerability and a concrete case study to this end. Thus, it is divided in two parts. Part I presents a theoretical framework about disaster as societal events and the second part is a study on both the predisaster situation and the recovery in Mexico City. My former writings Forskning om katastrofer inom samhĹ llsvetenskapen and The 1985 Mexican Earthquakes. A Geographical Analysis, both from 1991, furnish partial results. My work is founded on both former research findings and on my own examination of disaster and society in Mexico City. This disaster was partially analyzed by researchers and it was likewise a great piece of news, extensively treated by the media. The media nevertheless do not possess a scientific approach to social events: the media sell disasters as all other news, and this implies certain bias in news and reports. Musson (1989: 222) asserts that in contemporary press much significant data may go unreported for this reason. I mainly gathered data from Mexican

newspapers and the reliability of the collected information was crosschecked by means of comparing different sources. Among the rich literature on disasters some primary concepts were found in works of Ian Burton, Daniel Dory, Robert Geipel, Eugene Haas, Gunnar Hagman, Kenneth Hewitt, Robert W. Kates, Randolph C. Kent, Frederick Krimgold, James K. Mitchell, Timothy O'Riordan and Gilbert F. White. Publications on the September earthquakes and the reconstruction in Mexico City were of great significance, for example the writings of Adolfo Aguilar, Beatriz Calvo, Julia Carab’as, Renée Di Pardo, Russell R. Dynes and coresearchers, Jorge Gamboa, Jesœs Manuel Mac’as, Carlos Monsiváis, Humberto Musacchio, Victoria Novelo, Alejandro R’os, Mariángela Rodr’guez, and Alicia Ziccardi. Quotations and references are indicated in the text. A disaster develops in definite time-space coordinates, in historically predetermined places that undergo a particular social development. The sum of this social development is expressed in the "landscape-as-we-seeit". This landscape could be seen as a "battlefield" where contemporary processes of collaboration or conflict always happen. We can study positions in this battle, keeping in mind that not only the visible is present, but all that is composed of "strifes and coalitions between forces of nature and human interests" (HŠgerstrand 1985: 5 ff), and its context. The outcome of past processes form the landscape, influences present realities and set limits to future developments. The disaster takes place within a totality, which is "the mix of order and chaos that we build with our surroundings", and its character of totality Ñand not of unityÑ must be stressed (HŠgerstrand, id). Researchers aim to elicit a "global comprehension" of the infinitely complex reality. Consequently, a geographical approach suits this effort: "/geography/ is global comprehension, /the/ analysis of the present space, the most complex analysis as possible. /It/ is necessary to take everything into account." (Dresch 1984: 49). It follows then that geography is in this way "the science of putting together." (HŠgerstrand, id). The availability of the large amount of publications on the studied subject, naturally sets limits to the study. My own criteria for what is significant, and the varied approaches to particular respects set further limits. Another limit is the relativity of objectivity when discussing such a great social crisis as a catastrophe. Some important points in the disaster process are only mentioned, for example the attempts of administrative decentralization in the context of Mexico City's recovery.

I chose occasionally to show contradictory data side by side. All quoted references not originally written in English have been translated for the sake of uniformity and accessibility. Figures and tables are in most cases adaptations of material from different sources and the degree of adaptation varies but often consists in simplified versions of the originals. In some cases the modification complements the original according to my own view on the subject. References to the original sources are always indicated, otherwise are tables and diagrams my own. This thesis aims to show how previous normality was decisive in shaping the pattern of damages caused by disasters, and it is also the essential condition for the posterior recovery. This is demonstrated by means of a concrete case study, namely, the analysis of the recovery process in Mexico City and the part played in it by organizations, authorities and the mass media.

Disaster and Society

Each disaster is a singular case, but all of them show similar traits, well known by the researchers. Social features of disasters have been systematically analyzed since the 60's, and knowledge in the field has increased remarkably in recent decades. Despite the knowledge gained and the policies of prevention and mitigation grounded on it, the world's disaster potential keeps increasing. Current approaches assert that disasters are not really exceptional events but must be seen as outcomes of societal normality, as part of social development. The causes of disaster ought to be found in normal, and not exceptional, situations. In this first part, I will present a discussion about disasters, what is considered a disaster and which factors gain decisive weight in disaster situations. The concept "disaster context" is primordial in my analysis. Recent research has through its findings modified some general perceptions. For example, the discussion about vulnerability linked issues of disaster prevention with societal development and economic questions. Those factors condition the response, and the different undertakings Ñcommon to all recovery processesÑ gain particular expression in accordance with the contexts. Management of a disaster situation depends on previous preparedness, but also and in a high degree on the availability of information, and on foreseen mechanisms for gathering and disseminating information. This factor is decisive for international relief operations, and in this realm the mass media plays a fundamental part.

1. The Humanized Nature

Human interaction with natural environment can be the most destructive cause of disasters as well as being the most constructive mean of its prevention. Hagman et al. 1984: 55

Mankind has a double relationship with nature: as a part of nature, but at the same time as conscious transformer of nature. In this transformation, man becomes also transformed. There is no human reality in addition to a natural reality: what exists really is only one reality and therefore "mankind is at the same time in nature and in history." Since industry, technique, science and culture are considered by man as "humanized nature" the relation between society and environment should be conditioned by the features of this humanization (Kosik 1979: 213). The relationship between human settlement and environment is traditionally considered as having two faces: normality and disaster. Normality is the frame for everyday life, and it was traditionally seen as the opposite to disaster. Disaster is therefore considered as a crisis in the relationship man/environment, provoked by a cluster of factors, in particular those related to "/the/ kinds of transactions into which man enters with biological and physical systems, and to the capacity of the earth to support him" (White 1971: 325). Disasters involve the interaction between disastrous incidents and a vulnerable population. They do not happen in the realm of abstraction but in concrete places and in concrete times; in other words, only where nature has been humanized. Through several decades of research, the interpretations of what a disaster is has changed, and today the limits between normality and disaster are not so well-defined as before. Searching after explanations the focus switched from the catastrophic phenomenon to a more general comprehension of the context in which a disaster happens. This led to changes in the traditional view on disasters and the typification of an alternative viewpoint.

The presumption of two viewpoints does not imply that they are extremes in opinion, rather different interpretations of what social development is. As a consequence, definitions of disaster and of related concepts as risk, hazard and vulnerability display many possibilities. The analysis of risk and vulnerability have of necessity to take into consideration sociopolitical aspects. They are indeed coined by definite cultural realities; for example, such as the differences between rich and poor societies are decisive for the outcomes of a disaster.

Normality and Disaster Independent of our awareness about the relationship man/environment, or of our knowledge and intentions, nature remains an absolute totality beyond human existence. Natural cataclysms or catastrophes happen in this realm; they are not disasters. /Natural or social systems/ are inherently neither malevolent nor benevolent but largely neutral to their human populations. Primarily it is people who by the nature of their philosophies, attitudes or behavior modify or transform this environmental neutrality into either a useful resource or a potentially disastrous scenario. (Curson 1989: 3).

Kosik calls the process of humanization of natural environment the social praxis. It is the sum of all human activities in history, and therefore a sum of the interrelation between mankind and nature. The result of this sum Ñthe landscape-as-we-see-itÑ is the frame of daily life, the normality frame. Normality is then the outcome of the relationship man/nature, but also of the relationships among people. It is important to remember that "the relations between man and nature mask the more subtle forms of exploitation of man by man", as asserted by Copans (1983: 93). The natural history of normality is a condition, and at the same time an outcome of its cultural history. A phenomenon that crushes the threshold of what usually is expected to happen within normality Ñand in consequence implies an important disturbance of "normal" activityÑ is in general terms considered a disaster, and a disaster is explained in terms of "hazard". This is certainly a restrictive view: all that happens with regularity does not constitute hazard; hazard is the unexpected.

If a large farming population bases its whole way of life, culture and civilization on the annual inundation of the land by the Nile Ñwhich is really a flood catastropheÑ then what is actually catastrophic is if the flood fails to materialize. (Geipel 1987: 73).

For this conception, there is a border line between normality and disaster, and there have been many attempts to define it. A disaster always interrupts a certain development (Caputo et al 1985: 10), but the term "development" does not necessarily mean a positive social process. 15 000 000 children die each year in the world because of starvation or diseases related to it, but this is not considered a disaster (Wijkman 1985). The number of death and injuries on the roads makes also a large figure but this is not catastrophe either. On the contrary, this "can only be regarded as a general 'tribute in lives' which is the price to pay for 'progress", because such a figure "lacks both regional and chronological consistency" to satisfy the usual criteria to differentiate normality from disaster (Geipel 1987: 74). The above mentioned social processes with high numbers of casualties, are normal and expected. A disaster has physical and temporal limits, and it is a break in normality that must be over as soon as possible. Normality and disaster are in this way conceived as two separate forms of the relationship man/nature. Ordinary life is considered secure, productive, planned, scheduled and controlled. Disasters are insecure, occasion of losses and abnormal. A common-sense reflection is enough to demonstrate that this is not true. This is in fact a myth, favoured by the statistical treatment of social and natural conditions. For this viewpoint, everyday life and disaster are only fortuitously related; they have nothing to do with each other. Statisticians know well that "normal" social conditions are as much a fiction as the "average man". That does not prevent such constructs becoming the cornerstones of technocratic ideas of "reality" (Hewitt 1983b: 22)

What is normal could be different for particular social groups. Despite the definition of disaster as something opposite to normality, i e, something with different qualities, another conception is possible. Local level investigation leads to a constant redefinition of disaster and indeed to its dissolution as a category of events separate from a broad range of processes which affect populations. /The/ term disaster implies a departure from a normal condition. However, the "normal" cannot be taken for granted but must be investigated for any given context. (Jeffery 1982: 38).

What is a disaster? It is difficult to define disasters with any precision. /Any/ discussion of what constitutes a disaster invariably entails an arbitrary decision Curson 1989: 7.

Definitions of disaster can vary significantly. As for normality, the natural history of this concept is at the same time its cultural history. Both disaster and normality gain different contents, depending on how these concepts are perceived. Researchers often introduce their publications with semantic scrutinies or declarations about what they mean with the particular terms. Confusion about this issue is considerable, in spite of several decades of scientific analysis (O'Riordan 1986, da Cruz 1991a, HultĹ’ker and Trost 1978).. The confusion is also corroborated by using related terms as hazard, vulnerability or risk, as synonymous. In the scope of the rich literature persists "a weak interest about so fundamental issues as the definition and delimitation of the field of study or the indispensable clarification of the considered phenomena". For most authors, a disaster is considered a serious and prolonged disturbance (or interruption) of the life and/or the human activities in a relatively important extent (Dory 1985: 29 ff), but other views of disasters are conceivable too, "almost as many definitions and perceptions /as/ there are organizations and institutions working in it." (Hagman et al. 1984: 57). /Definitions/ vary widely from one source to another with the consequence that the available statistical records show numerous discrepancies in the kinds of events that qualify as disasters. The reasons may be academical, political, ideological, geographical, etc., depending on the nature of the organizations or institutions working with disasters. This also reflect the complexity of the subject. (Hagman et al. 1984: 49).

Krimgold maintains that the value of definitions must be judged according to the use made of it, and therefore they are instrumentalized, related to their application, general or specific, according to the needs. Clear and accepted definitions are necessary in legislation to establish laws, arrangements for disaster preparedness, the use of assistance or reconstruction funds, defining emergency situations, put into action emergency plans and to define responsible authorities and their commitments. Donators and relief organizations need also clear definitions to go forth into action. A precise discussion is conditioned by the definitions and their acceptance, too (Krimgold 1974: 10). /To determine/ which events would qualify as disasters, many attempts were made to make definitions where impacts, limited in time and geographical range,

were classified and quantified according to simple formulas: sudden events, or short lived phenomena, which certain minimum numbers of people affected or killed, and losses above certain values in monetary terms. Definitions with such limitations are still being used, although these definitions might exclude a number of disaster situations (Hagman et al. 1984: 48 and 49).

Definitions starting from human and social processes in the affected place are more fruitful to understand mechanisms of disaster and coping. Latter definitions stress the aspects of risk and vulnerability. Disasters are seen in a much wider ecological, social and environmental context. In this direction, an understanding of the particularities in each disaster was necessary to understand the process. The researchers O'Keefe and Westgate provided the following set of definitions, definitions also valid for my research: * Disaster event: The manifestation of an interaction between extreme physical or natural phenomena and a vulnerable human group that results in general disruption and destruction, loss of life and livelihood and injury. * Disaster context: The sum total of the possibilities, probabilities and frequencies of the occurrence of various disaster events, including previous disaster histories, in any given location, which render the location vulnerable. * Disaster environment: The combination of the disaster context and the social, political and economic conditions prevailing within any given location. * Disaster process: The dynamic operation over time of the distinctive elements contained within the disaster environment and their interrelationship (in Hagman 1984: 51). Usually, disasters are classified by the circumstance of their origin, the disaster event, also called disaster agent. These agents or trigger events act negatively upon the interfaces between human settlements and nature, and or technology. Three kinds of catastrophes from this assertion can be differentiated: * Natural disasters, with origin in the interface man-geosphere. * Anthropic disasters, with origin in the interface man-biosphere *Technological disasters or accidents, with origin in the interface mantechnosphere

Natural disasters are of climatic origin (hurricanes, drought, floods), geological or geomorphological origin (earthquakes, landslides, volcanic eruptions) or biological origin (epidemics, infestations). (Burton et al. 1978). Anthropic disasters are outcomes of natural processes and practices of production and reproduction which cause environmental degradation

beyond a critical threshold. Processes of desertification and erosion Ñboth in rich and poor countriesÑ are examples of anthropic disasters (Dory 1985: 31) ). Technological disasters are commonly outcomes of major failures in constructions submitted to large pressures (e g dams) or where productive or extractive dangerous processes take place, or even in storages of dangerous matters. Here must be included the disasters caused by transportation (e g in tank boats) or by dissemination of noxious substances in the environment, accidentally or through accumulations over time. Some researchers consider many of them as "normal accidents", disasters likely to occur when living with high-risk technologies. These are the normal patterns of exploitation in mining or oil industries, or in the construction of dams, etc. (Perrow 1984) ). According to the approach of Burton, Kates and White, to define a disaster is to define "extreme events", i e, threshold levels for a given place or society over which damages can occur. The action of the agent transgressing this level is the cause of the disaster. This way of description only considers natural hazards. Threshold levels are related to both physical and societal phenomena. Significant measurements are following: *Magnitude: Quantitative maximum or peak of the phenomenon (water level, liberated energy, wind speed). *Frequency: Statistic measurement: "how often an event of a given magnitude may be expected to occur in the long-run average". * Duration: Length of time over which a hazard event persists. * Areal extent: The space covered by a hazard event. * Speed of onset. Length of time between the first appearance of an event and its peak. * Spatial dispersion: Pattern of distribution over the space in which the disaster can occur (hazard-prone areas).. * Temporal spacing: The sequence of the events. Volcanic eruptions approximate a random time distribution, while tornadoes/ are seasonal. (Burton et al. 1978: 22, 23).

The impact of a disaster agent Ñor the duration of the trigger eventÑ varies according to its nature. Earthquakes or gas explosions have a sudden impact; droughts and leaks of radioactivity have a diffuse and long lasting

impact. Usually, when speaking about natural hazards, the quality of the disaster agent is stressed. Natural could be interpreted as in opposition to anthropic, and the natural aspects come into focus, hiding the social dimensions of disaster. The results of long term ecological deterioration are not so spectacularly visible as the effects of a hurricane, but gradual environmental deterioration implies future problems probably more difficult than those caused by a hurricane (Mitchell et al. 1989: 405). For many authors the agent is only a catalyst making all that already was normally bad to become worse. The disaster is hence clearly part and parcel of the relationship man/environment.

The study of disaster

Research on disaster has been from the beginning tightly related to government agencies and decisions about policies of relief or prevention. The researchers aimed to understand coping mechanisms with the intention of improving preparedness and formulate policies of prevention. These studies began in the US and in Europe, and they reflected the reality in developed countries (da Cruz 1991a). This fact contributed to consolidate an official, technocratic view about disasters, that marks most literature and documents from government or international agencies. First in recent years alternative viewpoints have gained acceptance. One main current of research focuses on individual perception mechanisms. It is assumed that responses to disaster Ñor the adoption of disaster policiesÑ depend on the way individuals perceive hazards. Cultural adaptation is the outcome of response, striving to diminish risks. In theory it is believed that there is a threshold of perception, "which triggers a search for, and possible adoption of, protective actions" (O'Riordan 1986: 282). Cultural changes entails the adaption of society to environmental hazards. Cultural adaptations also "have the effect of reducing or enlarging damage from extreme natural events." It could be expected that a person's perception of danger leads him or her to take protective measures, but the understanding of this process is very complex. Experience and ability to control one's own life play a part here, and so do the kinds of hazard, the possibility of warnings, and of information about choices of action. (Burton et al. 1978: 39). O'Riordan maintains that hazard studies...

belong firmly in the behavioral field of human ecology. /By analyzing societal responses one can/ learn how different societies understand and adjust to the forces that help condition their existence /but also how/ people may be encouraged or forced to live in hazardous circumstances (O'Riordan 1986: 272). Similar points of view were sustained by Gilbert F. White, who is considered to be the founder of modern hazard research. He engaged himself from the beginning to studies about flood disasters in USA, and his view about this matter was the startpoint for all subsequent research developments. It is importante to underline that findings have cultural character and new approaches brought changes in hypothesis and paradigms. White's conclusion s changed of course with time too, as presented in two papers from 1971 and 1988, commented here. Natural disasters as social processes became for the first time subjects of study in the 1920's. Before that, there were well advanced studies about the physical causes of disasters but only descriptions by travellers and eyewitnesses about the social response to them. Since the 1940's disasters became systematically analyzed, and in the 50's and 60's this research gained academic status, at least in the US. The first approaches showed concern with authorities' intervention in disaster-prone areas, stressing hazard control rather than man/hazard management and emphasizing therefore technologies for disaster prevention and postdisaster reliefs. During the last decades, this research blossomed and kept developing to today's global interdisciplinary field. The major stimulus for this work was to overcome the paradox of vulnerability in modern societies, which, "while increasingly able to manipulate nature, are increasingly susceptible to the ravages of natural disasters." (O'Riordan 1986: 276). Early research on disasters Ñin the 30'sÑ was part of the first systematic long-term study about human adjustment to natural hazard. It was directly concerned with territorial planning, and from it arose a research paradigm, based on cost-benefit analysis and models of decision making. Such models /...assumed/ that individuals living in places of hazard would have relatively complete knowledge of the hazard and its occurrence, would be aware in some degree of the consequences, and would seek to make those adjustments which would represent an optimal resolution of the costs and benefits from each of the adjustments open to them (White 1986: 331)

It was assumed that if the researchers could ascertain the view people had of expected disastrous effects, it would be possible to select response solutions able to attain the maximum net utility. Observed adjustments to uncertainty were classified in three groups of possible response to extreme events in a natural system: (1) modify the cause, (2) modify the losses, or (3) distribute the losses (White 1986: 329ff). Nevertheless, people have different behavior and the responses ought to be explained in another way. The necessity of changes in public policy required the use of some other kind of model centered on economic gains and losses too, but also considering factors such as the information available to the individual, his personal experience, and the physical nature of the event. /A decision/ may be hypothesized to involve the interaction of human systems and physical systems in terms of adjustment to a particular hazard. The interaction is represented as a choice-searching process as affected by personality, information, decision situation, and managerial role (White 1986: 332, 333).

Empirical research proved that knowledge and information about risks were important for individual decisions only in the extent they were meaningful, and so new research about display models and individual perception started. Knowledge about perception processes and on the relationship between perceptions, verbalized expressions of attitudes and actual behavior, was necessary. "At this point the interest of geographers on problems of perception and attitude formation converged with those of psychologists, sociologists, city planners, and architects." (White 1986: 333). This approach was given application in various disaster context, not only in floods, and hypotheses were tested in studies under the 60's. The general conclusion, in words of Gilbert F. White, was that there were three major types of response to natural hazards. * Folk, or preindustrial response, involving a wide range of adjustments requiring more modifications in behavior and harmony with nature than control of nature and being essentially flexible, easily abandoned, and low in capital requirements. *Modern technological, or industrial response, involving a much more limited range of technological actions which tend to be inflexible, difficult to change, high in capital requirement, and tend to require interdependent social organization. *Comprehensive, or postindustrial response, combining features of both of the other types, and involving a larger range of adjustments, greater flexibility, and greater variety of capital and organizational requirements.

(White 1986: 341).

There is no necessary time sequence in these types of response, but if industrialization is considered the goal of societal development then a sequential order becomes logical. White concluded in 1971 that the findings from flood studies could be applied in policy making, relating them to planning and to alternatives of management for interventions in the environment. /if/ environmental problems are pursued rigorously enough and with sufficient attention to likely contributions from other disciplines, they may foster constructive alterations in public policy but at the same time may stimulate new research and refinement of research methodology to the benefit of geographic science (White 1986: 343)

The study of disasters would gain a new dimension, as a ground for general planning and contribute to the achievement of a holistic view on development. White retrospectively concluded that so had not happened, but the latter concern from agencies, NGO or researchers in linking disaster prevention with development planning, and the view of disaster as part of societal endeavors, confirm perhaps his primary assumption. In the 1970's researchers paid attention to new experiences from the growing number of destructive disasters in poor countries and to the rapidly increasing concern in disaster relief of non-governmental organizations (Kent 1987). Established quantitative thresholds in money or lost lives to classify disasters, gained totally different significance in poor or rich societies, in rural or urban environments. Many efforts had been dedicated to classification, but usual distinctions as for example among accidents, disasters and catastrophes, appeared only statistically or taxonomically interesting. The intervention of many agencies and NGO's in disaster relief activities brought out a broader field of research. The agencies conduct own research programs, searching to improve the effectivity in relief activities. For example, the Red Cross publishes analytical rapports about its completed actions, and make evaluations of development projects related to predisaster planning. Research about adaptation, relief and disaster management is today related to worldwide practice. Technology in recent decades came to be recognized as an important source of hazard. Technological hazards are often due to specific largescale infrastructure facilities which make above-average demands on the environment. Such facilities "presumably essential to the economy and society as a whole", are associated with risks for the local population

(Geipel 1987). Moreover, this author stresses the quality of "freely circulating hazards" that "water pollution, soil acidification and air pollution" have. Vulnerability is increasing in global terms. Further, conflicts between local and global interests Ñat all levelsÑ often results in larger vulnerability. For example, transformations in the Sahel from an economy of nomadic cattle to cash-crop agriculture, contributed to cause disastrous droughts and famine (Copans 1983). Despite the uniqueness of each disaster situation, recommended adjustments to reduce hazard are usually clusters of economic and politic measures, rather general principles and not deeper ecological questions linked to particular places. This fact underlines the importance of hazardcontexts as a relevant concept for disaster research. Experience showed that human responses usually considered hazards as well-determined sociopolitical phenomena more than human ecological ones with general validity. In a comment from 1984, White maintained that in the research on natural hazards "the simplified explanations prevailing in the early 1960's are no longer accepted" (White 1986: 343)

Hazard environment

Studies of the environment in which the hazard happens are therefore gaining larger consideration. The environment is multilayered and includes factors of time-space, risk exposure, vulnerability and other components or contexts, but also the salience of hazards in the realms of culture and politics (Mitchell et al 1989: 391). The contexts confers uniqueness to each disaster including social and individual factors. Natural hazards are considered by Mitchell as systems. Disasters are nowadays more than before considered "total geographical facts", as suggested by Daniel Dory. Hazards ought to be grasped as a whole. A complete model of natural hazard Ñas the one proposed by James K. Mitchell and his coresearchersÑ must combine the natural hazardous factors with the hazard contexts. If hazards are considered systems, the hazardous factors and the hazard contexts constitute indeed two sub-systems with several components each. Figure 1.1 shows a model of hazards as systems.


Figure 1.1: A natural hazard system (Adapted from Mitchell et al 1989: 404) The first subsystem of hazardous components have four separate but interacting elements: physical processes, human populations, adjustments to hazard, and net losses. The second subsystem comprises hazardcontexts, including "risk (physical processes), exposure and vulnerability (human populations), responses (adjustments to hazard), and costs (net losses)". Seven relationships ÑlinksÑ act to make the components modify each other in following ways: Physical processes affect human activities (link 1), but the latter can also inadvertently change the former (link 2). Adjustments may deliberately modify physical processes (link 5) and human exposure or vulnerability (link 4), but they rarely eliminate all losses (link 6). Net losses are monitored by society (link 7), and new adjustments may be adopted if a threshold of tolerance is exceeded (link 3) (Mitchell et al 1989: 405ff) Hazards are influenced by large exogenous factors too, which change over time independent of the components of the hazard situation. Many factors could be identified; some of them are megascale environmental changes (including movement of tectonic plates and fluctuations in the atmosphere), demographic processes (which sometimes encourage the invasion of areas at risk) or other factors with influence in the range of possible adjustments to hazard, as increased scientific knowledge or new technologies (Mitchell et al 1989: 406). The subsystem of contexts is composed by large problem sets, that encompass natural hazard components or overlap with them, in mutual interaction. "Contexts may be spatial, temporal, organizational, environmental, sociocultural, economic, political or of some other form." (Mitchell et al 1989: 406). Contexts are highly changeable, and cultural factors are of evident relevance in many of them. This poses a dilemma: it is very difficult to derive broad conclusions from specific case-studies, as was often attempted in early research ). To study hazard contexts requires new strategies, and the commented model of a natural hazard system includes interaction links and relationships among different components, of importance to understand the complexity of a disaster. It transforms hazard research in a broad field of activity, where some kind of holistic point of

view Ña social-ecological approachÑ is necessary to understand the diversity of responses, and to discuss adjustments according to the ecology in each disaster-prone place. Many perspectives are appropriated: studies place on a perspective scale from micro to macro; from incorporate changes as fundamental issues, and to the analysis of an isolated relief action.

Interpretations of calamity

After forty years of hazard research, the influence of its findings was wellestablished. In governmental agencies and international organizations, both in capitaliss or socialist countries, there was a common body of concepts and methodology in use. Hewitt called it "the dominant view" (Hewitt 1983b: 4). As is clear in retrospect, /the former/ field studies were ahistoric, insensitive to culturally varied indigenous adaptive strategies, largely ignorant of the huge body of relevant work on disaster theory in sociology and anthropology, flawed by the absence of any discussion of the politicaleconomic context of hazard occurrence and genesis, and in the final analysis having little credibility in light of the frequent banality and triviality of many of the research findings (Watts 1983: 240) Most criticisms pointed out the loose assumptions about the role of rationality in choices and adaptation to hazard. Whether these theories accepted societal causes of disaster, society was conceived as aggregated individuals, and social developments as the sum of individual decision making. People and nature were treated as discrete entities "in which the latter is seen as limiting, non-dynamic and generally stable" (Watts 1983: 235). For the critical approach, traditional distinctions between natural and man-made hazards largely disappear: disasters do not arise from nature per se but from the interaction man-environment. One ignores the fact that disasters are an integral part of environmental abuse and economic and social exploitation, and instead hides in the assumption that disasters "by definition" are "separate", "uncertain" and "unprecedent". The truth more often than not is the opposite. Disasters are the consequence of the way humanity lives its normal life. (Kent 1987: 4)

In consequence, disasters and responses should be interpreted as parts of processes with spatial, temporal and other properties. The victims are often blamed for risk exposure or inadequate practices in settlements or

exploitations, but a broader view would point out that the practices are part of the only possible responses ordinary people have in the face of societal developments beyond their control. (Morren 1983: 285, 288) ). Natural disasters result for the dominant paradigm from "extremes" in geophysical processes, and human actions facing them are primarily explained by the nature of such processes. Literature and recommendations deal mainly with geophysical monitoring, forecasting or direct engineering or land-use planning. No one could deny the importance of social or economic factors, but "it is nature which decides where and what social conditions or responses will become significant." The geography of hazards is therefore treated as synonymous with the mapping and the study of the spatial distribution and frequencies of extreme natural events. Adjustments to hazard are a matter of experts, planning and government measures backed up by science. Ordinary human activity "can do little except make the problem worse by default." (Hewitt 1983b: 5ff). The dominant view implies a convergence in opinions or approaches, dominating in the allocation of research resources, the number of personnel involved and the volume of their publications, and further the acceptance of their views by the institutions of rich, industrialized countries. This body of ideas has changed over time, but is coherent enough to constitute a paradigm or a consensus. Its strength is to be a "construct, reflecting the shaping hand of contemporary social order." (Hewitt 1983b: 4). Agencies of national governments and international organizations adopted the same concern and supporting ideas. Under the 80's, some alternative ideas were partially accepted, as shown in latter documents from UNDRO, UNO, or large NGOs as the Swedish Red Cross (UNDRO-IDNDR, United Nations 1988, Hagman 1985, Wijkman 1985) Disasters challenge the normal order and power structures, so they are interpreted as something strange, outside these structures, and dangerous to them. This fact and the placement of the problem in narrowing fields of research and specialization, created a sense of discontinuity and otherness between disaster and normality. Disaster, like other social disturbances, was isolated. Disaster in the 20th-century international system involves comparable pressures upon dominant institutions and knowledge as did the 'crazed poor' in the social and economic crises that formed the underbelly of the Enlightenment. Madness and calamity are very disturbing (Hewitt 1983b:

9) They are in consequence named with "un"-words: un-expected, unprecedented, deriving from un-certain events. Hazardous events are identified according to a scale of separate thresholds of intensity or damages, though human societies may be seen in a continuous process of interaction with the environment. Hazards for this view " destabilize or violate ordinary life" that is a harmonic relationship with the environment (Hewitt 1983b: 10 ff.). The dominant view can not contemplate human actions as destructive: activities are positively considered, derived from self-interest in survival or adaption. Devastating actions are madness. "/To/ argue that government, business, science or other institutions create disaster has been in a sense outlawed from rational discourse" (Hewitt 1983b: 17 ff.). Criticisms against this view have diverse origin, but it is possible to differentiate a common body of ideas, grounded on three convictions: * Natural disasters are not accidental features, but recurrent phenomena in the affected places. * Risk, pressures, uncertainties "flow mainly from what is called ordinary life" rather than from hazards. * Natural extremes are more expected and knowable than many of the developments in ordinary societal life.(Hewitt 1983b: 25).

The existence of two approaches does not mean that they are irreducible positions. In fact, the dominant view integrated many radical thoughts in recent years. The difference settled rather in the way of interpreting the socioeconomic development and its consequences. Table 1.1 attempts to depict the two streams.

Table 1.1:Two views of disaster. Key Issues Definitions and explanations are originated in..Science is... The social reality is... Normality is... Disasters are...

Vulnerability deals with... Recovery has to be...

Underdevelopment disaster worse...


Dominant view *the physical world

Alternative view * the hazard environment

*objective, free from values *homogeneous *productive, stable, ordered,an *abstraction, a myth *acts of God and mankind,extremes in

* man-made, construction * rich in variation * change, conflict, totality a concrete reality * acts of God and sociadevelopment,


nature or hazard,the unusual, *ack of knowledge and planning *losses in people or elements at risk in a scale 0 to 1 *matter of experts, a way to preserve status quo, *development *systems of warning

periodical,lspecific. lack power and of resources


*because it is a stage in development-

* because it is a stage in marginalization

* risk exposure and capability of recovery* controlled by the people in risk, a way to social change, local control

Another used concept in alternative approaches is marginalization. According to this viewpoint, vulnerability in poor countries is not a consequence of bad risk-management or lack of knowledge. Responses and adjustments that apparently are absurdities Ñas in Bangladesh where peasants without land settled outside the dikesÑ have political, economic and societal causes. Changes in the way of thinking about disaster are part of a wider revolution in the understanding of development and underdevelopment. What have previously been seen as a state out of which the poor country had to emerge is now widely seen as a process of impoverishment based on a world economy which perpetuates technological dependency and unequal exchange. A similar view is taken about the active underdevelopment of poorer classes by richer ones within poor countries, as well as between rich countries and poor.(Susman et al. 1983: 277 ff).

People suffering from marginalization are those forced off the land or onto very poor or insufficient land, and who cannot find a permanent job. Nevertheless, marginalization does not imply that such groups are outside the wider economy, on the contrary, developments in the wider economy may be based on and require such reductions in the resources of sectors of the population as a cheap reserve labour force (Jeffery 1982: 39). Deprivation and scarce control over living conditions make people

vulnerable, without means to adjust to hazards. Disasters will increase with the deterioration of environment (Susman et al. 1983: 278ff). Disaster could be viewed as a vicious circle, the chain poverty-downgrade-disaster (Caputo et al, 1985: 11). Figure 1.2 shows it .


Figure 1.2 Marginalization and disaster (Adapted from Susman et al. 1983:: 279)

Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability Many researchers have verified the existent confusion about the meaning of terms used in speaking about disasters. This is not only a matter of academic concern, but a real difficulty to identify problems and therefore to apply prevention and relief policies. Problems of definition affect not only the term disaster but also related concepts as risk and hazard. Clear and accepted definitions improve the possibilities to analyze risks, to warn against them and to cope with disasters. This has different relevance for natural hazards and for technological risks. Coping strategies against natural hazards are not directly comparable to the necessary safety regulations and the "enormously contentious and time-consuming safety clearance process" that people's knowledge about environmental risk demands. (O'Riordan 1986: 273). We live among accepted and unaccepted risks, but most of them are beyond our choice or control: they are imposed by normality (Geipel 1987). O'Riordan maintained that in most Western democracies people are becoming "increasingly alarmed about the danger they judged themselves to be in /though it is/ unlikely that they are actually in greater danger than their great-grandparents were" Information plays in this question a substantial part (1986: 273). Risks could gain actuality and cause a disaster, if some elements intervene. Risk is, from this point of view, a probability in function of natural or human agents. Risks could be ignored, aggravated or

attenuated by the action of mankind, because they are cultural phenomena. A risk is, as a matter of fact, what society considers risky (Dory 1985: 33). The more complex the social development is, the more risks can gain actualization in the same place (Geipel 1987).


Risk is not the same as hazard, even if these words are used synonymously. Daniel Dory defines risk as the possibility to encounter danger or harm, the exposure to a chance of injury or loss, or the degree of such exposure. Hazard is the exposure in itself, the incurring possibility of loss and harm. The difference is slight but important. According to Dory risk and vulnerability are often mixed up, and "imprecision is considerably increased in the Anglo-Saxon literature by the very large semantic field covered by the term hazard." (1985: 33). According to dictionnaries, hazard implies a nuance of will or choice, of chance-taking ). O'Riordan has different definitions. He divides environmental hazard into natural or man made, and stresses the problem of terminology. He applied the term hazard "to natural events such as floods, droughts, storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and the like", and the terms technological hazard or environmental risk to man-made hazards. A hazard becomes a disaster depending on the risks in the place in question, and only if the population does not have means to cope with it. Properly speaking, "hazard" is an adverse event or situation while "risk" is the combination of the nature and the consequences of an event and the likelihood of its occurrence. This definition implies that a "hazard" caused or is likely to cause death, injury, or damage to people and to property involving general suffering and distress, and considerable economic costs./Environmental risks, however, need not be settlement specific and/ may have regional or global consequences (e.g. CO2 discharges or enhanced acidity in the atmosphere and in rainfall), and they are characterized by a greater degree of scientific dispute as to cause, consequence, and probability of occurrence than in natural hazard (O'Riordan 1986: 272).

UNDRO ) proposed standard definitions for terms and concepts to avoid "conflicts of nomenclature and to establish a set of terms for use in disaster studies which will be widely understood and accepted". This set of definitions "included all the terms used in UNDRO studies and in UNESCO publications but in several cases the terms used do not

correspond." According to this approach, the most commonly used terms possessed following meanings: * Natural Hazard: probability of occurrence, within a specific period of time in a given area, of a potentially damaging natural phenomenon. * Vulnerability: degree of loss to a given element at risk or set of such elements resulting from the occurrence of a natural phenomenon of a given magnitude and expressed on a scale from 0 (no damage) to 1 (total loss). * Elements at Risk: population, buildings and civil engineering works, economic activities, public services, utilities and infrastructure, etc., at risk in a given area. * Specific Risk: expected degree of loss due to a particular natural phenomenon and as a function of both natural hazard and elements at risk. * Risk: expected number of lives lost, persons injured, damage to property and disruption of economic activity due to a particular natural phenomenon, and consequently the product of specific risk and elements at risk (UNDRO1979:5)

Risk analysis

A very large number of publications on this matter is available. The extensive and expansive development of research on this subject is part of both an increased environmental concern and more awareness about technological risks. This matter is closedly related to policy making and planning, but the research paid large attention to topics of information and communication about risks aiming to influence public debate advocating their acceptance. The following presentation is limited to some topics of relevance for my own analysis, and attempt to show how the subject of study changed with time through the public debate, as it happened in the realm of natural disasters. The probability and severity of technological risks is considerably uncertain, and despite all research and its achievements, "major errors are quite likely, and some form of trial, error, and error correction is an inescapable part of decision-making." (Woodhouse 1989: 72). Searching for scientific grounds for decision making, risk-analysis has developed a long time to a widespread discipline related to industrial and territorial management. Today's high risk technologies transform decision making in the matter of public debate, and risk analysis is considered part of it. Historically, regulations were decided by consensus between government and industry experts, but as systems became larger and more complex, the balance of this happy two-way relationship was upset by public opposition,

ostensible because of risks. /It/ was in this setting, some 20 years ago, that the new "discipline" of risk analysis emerged (Otway 1987: 125) With time, the researchers put successive stress in some significant concepts, for example acceptable risk, risk-benefit analysis, risk perception and risk communication. There was a divorce between the expectations of technical experts and the public concerns about new technologies. It was not only a matter of fear of death and injury, but the research showed that there are other, objective characteristics of risk as voluntariness, control, delay, catastrophic potential which the public cares about. The question was broader than the experts thought. As Otway summed: Acceptable risk was a numbers game in which we tried to define quantitative criteria by which the social acceptability of risks and, implicitly, of technologies could be judged /.../ Risk-benefit analysis went further, quantifying benefits as well as other kinds of risk. It was useful to pay attention to benefits as well, but quantification in a consistent set of units raised the problem of placing monetary values to human life, suffering and all that we hold dear (Otway 1987: 126).

The problem here was that human life belongs to concrete individuals, and their quantified value, taken in extreme terms, implies that the lives of the rich are worth more than the lives of the poor. Research made the experts aware that people had a holistic view about risks, and considered risks as multidimensional, this gained validity when considering natural hazards too. Otway commented that studies on risk perception led to the discovery "that one could actually go out and talk to them, instead of dealing with hypothetical, axiom-obeying people." This comment is a sign of the authoritarian approach that had ruled in former research: lack of communication between experts and public was evident and uncomfortable. The necessity to establish a dialog, and how to maintain it, led to a new field of research, namely the increasing field of risk communication Risk communication is today's trend research area. /It/ has carried our relationship with people a step further. Now we are ready to talk to them and, presumably, to listen as well. Most papers have tended to focus on how to provide information to lay people in a way that is credible and understandable or, in other words, convincing. (Otway 1987: 126). The geographer Gilbert F. White's 50 years long work covers most of the topics in risk analysis and his approach developed to a holistic view in which natural and man made risks are no longer "parallel streams of concern" but embraces hazards of all types.

By the late 1980's, most of the genuinely global environment problems were seen to entail the risk or consequences of technical intervention: the environmental effects of nuclear war; permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste; alterations in biogeochemical cycles of carbon, sulfur and other greenhouse gases as they affect climate and vegetation; and development of a sustainable agriculture. (White 1988: 172).

White offered observations from natural hazard research relevant to technological hazards, which possible application in risk analysis. Of special importance is the conclusion that almost all hazards have both technological and natural components, with the mix differing from one place to another. White maintained that the usual method of benefit-cost analysis in evaluating policies of risk prevention is limited and may be misleading: as quantification can be politically manipulated. He stressed the fundamental emphasis to listen to the affected people and take account how they perceived risk. "Reliance solely in the perceptions of scientific and technical analysts may give a false notion of the actual situation." Not only the people's view must be regarded, but the social structure too: "There is growing recognition of how the social fabric in which decisions take place may influence the outcome profoundly." Finally, the analysis of risk may not be separated from the appraisal of risk management. Otherwise, it may lead to unrealistic findings or unrealistic action options." (White 1988: 173 and 174) Risk management consists of four phases of activity: identification, estimation, evaluation and control of risks. Most studies look for solutions to concrete management problems, both in the realms of natural hazard and of technological risks, with the aim to develop planning. Identification and estimation are fundamentally scientific analytical tools; the other phases are political and moral judgements, and administrative dispositions for control (O'Riordan 1986: 294) Scientific rationality and full-safety plants and industrial processes may allow reliable identification and estimation of risks, but human factors in plant operation and safety mechanisms are out of scientific management. Faith in authorities Ñboth political and scientificÑ plays a fundamental part. Public anxiety over danger increases with both public debate about safety and "reasonably achievable" levels of toxicity, and also if such debate is avoided. Political implications of risk management are different for people with different background and social position, and for experts. All risks can not be identified or calculated and any attempt to do it set off

new, different risks. "This is frustrating", concluded O'Riordan (1986: 295ff.). To manage risks is an attempt to flee uncertainty, but all social development is often uncertain. It is impossible to calculate exactly all outcomes Ñand risksÑ of societal developments: disagreement in values Ñin what is risky or notÑ is the only certain issue, and in consequence risk management can not attain full consensus, certainty or knowledge. (Woodhouse 1989). The outcomes of research underlined subjectivity in judgements about risks, both among experts and people. Confusing risk perception opens a possibility for experts and politicians to intervene and change opinion, ie through manipulation. Conclusions about such outcomes are not out of controversy. A deeper understanding of the complex social and individual mechanisms behind risk acceptance and risk perception have to be related to the general political and economic development, to the cultural level of different groups within society, and to the degree of consciousness and activity those groups have; in sum, related to vulnerability. Risk analysis has important social, cultural and political sides, not only in what concern technologies but with relevance in hazard management too. In this way, it is possible to talk about a dominant view also in risk analysis, and about a parallel development of alternative views along time. O'Riordan nevertheless asserts that societal response to environmental risk "differs markedly from its response to natural hazard", and pointed out its cultural character. Society is for him divided in two broad opinion tendencies about this topic: ecocentrism and technocentrism. These tendencies correspond to those who have faith in the wisdom to adapt to the constraints imposed by nature, and those who have faith in the suitability of technologies to manipulate nature. Ecocentrics tend to distrust certain aspects of authority and expertise and their fear for environmental (technological) risks may be as much a failure to accept authority, expertise, technology as it is a feature of the risk associated with a particular technology or substance. Technocentrists are mostly concerned with designing technologies and manufacturing potentially dangerous substances; ecocentrics are mostly concerned with responsibilities for safety and ensuring that standards and procedures are observed. (O'Riordan 1986: 292). The marked difference in responses to natural and technological hazard pointed out by O'Riordan becomes not so marked in

the light of the discussion about interpretations of calamity. In a broadened sense, the dominant view has been clearly technocentric, and ecocentrism is part of the alternative. The cultural character of risk perception has in both cases the same validity, because of the intertwined and mutual multiplication of effects Ñwith natural or cultural originÑ observable in disasters. O'Riordan affirmed that risks have always been integrated in culture, traditionally incorporated into ways of coping, but man-made hazards gain a new, moral dimension: the exposure to danger is not seen as part of the culture, but as societal failure. Here facts and values are interconnected, and scientific evaluation and political judgements are mixed with industrial or military secrecy and lack of accountability. Experts and people judged risks in different ways, and this can not always be "distinguishable from their political beliefs or their attitudes to authority, expertise, party loyalty, or national chauvinism.". Connecting socioeconomic development and technological risks a new concept developed: environmental martyr. "Environmental martyrdom characterizes the innocent who die or who suffer injury from environmental hazards, about which they know nothing when exposed" (O'Riordan 1986: 293). Nevertheless, natural hazard management is a matter of high political and cultural concern too: lack of prevention and recovery planning is often interpreted as societal disregard or culpable ignorance toward the citizens exposed to risk. When such an exposure is considered unavoidable consequence of the social development Ñas for the theory of marginalizationÑ the concept environmental martyr could gain a new dimension, including the victims of natural hazard. Whereas they could be considered victims of a particular way of social development, the formulation developmental martyrs make sense here. An example from the reality in USA in the past decade illustrate this: Even while the US government was working to achieve safer commercial nuclear power generation in the aftermath /of Three Mile Island/, its own military reactors administrated by the Department of Energy, continued to operate unchecked in their violation of safety and health standards and in their chronic contamination of the environment. Areas around some of the federal government's seventeen nuclear installations are starting to be referred to as "national sacrifice zones" because some sites have been rendered almost permanently off-limits by environmental contamination (Zeigler and Johnson 1989: 352)

The reality of pollution in industrial areas in the name of development in, for example, Brazil, Mexico, Russia or Poland deserves a similar title. The

consequences of natural hazards in such zones of high risk and vulnerability will be even more serious. Because the actual patterns of development not only make risks unavoidable but create new risks, planners and researchers devoted many efforts to the determination of socially acceptable standards of risk and safety. To establish such standards is a task with plenty off difficulties: /The/ political climate is changing to reflect greater public anxieties about the future, doubts over the social benefits of new technologies, concern about how far these new technologies can be brought to heel, disquiet about how far regulators are competent and genuinely independent, and frustration over their seeming inability to change the political ethos of "big" institutions (the military, the nuclear industry, the chemical corporations, the development agencies Ă‘even the legislatures). (O'Riordan 1986: 294).

As with most studies about hazards, studies of risk are based on Western reality but a worldwide perspective evidence quite different conditions. Risk management in poor countries have to confront economic and administrative weaknesses and higher levels of general vulnerability, but also technological transferences Ñand in consequence risk transferencesÑ often beyond effective possibilities of democratic control because of industrial secrecy and socioeconomic constraints. The usual activities of risk management suffer serious distortions, if they are carried out at all. Scientific and political development is conditioned by factors as poverty and dependence. Regulatory activities have for many reasons lower effectivity, and transferred industrial plants and processes often do not maintain the same safety standards as in mother countries. An additional risk transference is the mix of life standards that implanted products and ways of living bring out, as with the much discussed case of milk surrogates, and could have catastrophic consequences for health. (Dory 1985, Kayastha 1989, Ives 1985)

Risk analysis ought to consider global development patterns, to see only a local dimension of risks is to address the problem to others. An example is the transfer of industrial waste matters transformed into merchandise and therefore sent against payment for deposition in poor countries; to export risks is an accepted way of waste management. Furthermore, risks develop from the very increased worldwide transportation, especially the large flood of dangerous substances mainly carried with boats. The principal routes go along the coast of poor and very poor countries, often densely populated and without resources to cope with technological catastrophes, as in the Bay of Bengal. One more exampel can

be the statement of Kent Blom from the International Marine Organization in the swedish nespaper Gรถteborgs Posten (19900819, page 34), with reference to an information from the pressagency Associated France Press. Panamanian officials expressed their fear about the large traffic of boats carrying atomic waste mostly from Japanese nuclear plants along the Panama channel. In case of accident, the country does not have the means to cope with probable outcomes. In consequence, higher levels of vulnerability brought by exogenous factors, make difficult the chances of poorer countries to both analyze risks and cope with eventual disasters. In the period of impoverishment developing in the last decades the conditions for disaster prevention policies or risk management became hardly easier. An alternative view in risk analysis could not ignore that risks have more than local effects; they must be considered as a factor in the international development, and therefore subject to international control and coping strategies. From being a tool for one-way communication risk analysis ought to change to a forum for public debate about technological risks and development. /If/ we face up to the realities of the post Chernobil world, I believe we will come to realize that risk analysis is a political tool, and that the acceptability of technologies is a political matter in which the public could play a more constructive role than it is usually allowed. When we are able to accept this, instead of railing at the expediency of political decisions, the "irrationality" of interest groups, and manipulation by the media, then our skills can begin to contribute to the advancement of democracy. (Otway 1987: 129)

Vulnerability Maybe richer does mean safer; and poorer, riskier O'Riordan 1986: 305

Vulnerability is in general terms a variable that depends on the kind and the dynamic of thesocial development at the place in question, according to a whole conjugation of instances or contexts such as economic means, prevention policy, previous experience in disasters, structural capapabilities for assistance and succir, administrative measures taken in advance, existence of reserve funds and insurance against danages and many other

questions of social and cultural nature ( Dory 1985: 34). Vulnerability is in other terms a measure of the victims' recovery capability and therefore conditioned by normality. The social praxis, in modifying normality, is continuously modifying the degree of vulnerability. Since poverty and hazard cannot be separated, any improvements in coping strategies must involve some transfer of resources from the rich to the poor, and from the powerful to the powerless, combined with opportunities for different groups in various societies freely to develop their own pattern of response. This is wishful thinking indeed (O'Riordan 1986: 305). Vulnerability is often lowered by policies of disaster preparedness. To accept uncertainties and act in consequence is the basis of it, but predisaster preparedness is not only predisaster planning, it must also comprehend a general adaptation of the society to possible disasters. The reduction of vulnerability involves the whole way of living, and therefore it is a subject without well-defined borders. Studies about vulnerability have to cover particular aspects of the social reality, the contexts of disasters. The only way here is the knowledge about the effect of former disasters in the prone areas: it is necessary to gather as much information as possible, but this is not free from problems. Information on vulnerability is less plentiful, less reliable and less clearly defined than the information usually available on natural hazards themselves. Various categories of data are required, relating not only to the details of possible material damage, but also on the degree of social and economic disorganization that may take place (UNDRO 1979)

The comprehension of vulnerability formed the ground for pre-disaster planning. Its goal is to gain control on the outcomes of hazard and uncertainty; it is a permanent process aiming to narrow uncertainty. Some general strategies for facing uncertainty constitute a system of trial and error. Woodhouse (1989: 74) enumerated five suitable strategies. * Initial precautions against catastrophic loss. * "Err on the side of caution". * Testing the risks. * Preparing to learn from experience. * Priority-setting.

Taking insurances, for example, belong to the first strategy. To prevent damages Ñeven if their occurrence may be uncertainÑ is the goal of the second strategy. Related to this is the testing of risks, instead of waiting for the real outcomes of a disaster, but testing of all risks may be impossible, as it is necessary the setting of priorities.

These strategies may diminish vulnerability, but in reality it depends on the societal organization "with all its morphological complication and dynamic, and mainly on the conditions and modes for human settlements (in a broader sense, not constraint to the habitat), on the attained economic level, on the efficacy of administration, etc." (Dory 1985: 34). Vulnerability exists at all levels. To focus the analysis on the social reality does not mean that individual disaster perception or chance taking do not have a part to play. All evaluations of the degree of vulnerability have to consider cultural factors, the quality of predisaster preparedness, the existing relief resources, and the availability of means for reconstruction at both individual and societal levels. In the final analysis, disasters are about vulnerability, and vulnerability Ñwhatever the disaster agentÑ is created by mankind. The real solution to disaster prevention, preparedness and relief can only come from addressing the basic problems that create the very vulnerabilities that render human beings prone to disasters. Disasters can not be divorced from normal life; they are a reflection of it. So, too, are the immediate responses to relief. (Kent 1987: 27)

Further, the extended network of relief agencies and NGO's involved in disaster assistance transforms some aspects of vulnerability into international issues. Worldwide patterns of wealth distribution make poor countries very vulnerable. Absolute losses from natural hazards are much greater in industrialized than in developing societies, but proportional losses and death are extremely high in the "mixed and folk societies" (Burton et al. 1978: 221). In rural areas, local social and economic systems are affected by the relationships between subsistence production and production for the market, "which affect the resource base of the population at both the household and community levels". Lacking control and resources affect the possibilities of both to face any kind of crisis and the necessary efforts of reconstruction afterwards (Jeffery 1982: 39). Apparently irrational responses to potential and actual disasters among the poorest, are due to scarcity of resources to provide modern adjustments (Susman et al. 1983: 278). Suitable risk studies are possible in poor countries despite scarcities, but potential planning is not enough to compensate the conjunction of extended poverty and rapid population growth. Nevertheless, the most accurate riskevaluation would only confirm that "perhaps 90 percent of all deaths in natural disasters (such as floods, hurricanes or earthquakes) occur as a

result of unsafe houses being built on unsafe sites" (Davis 1979: 105). The exploitation of land prone to erosion or flood Ñaggravated by cash-crops agricultureÑ, and the exodus of poor peasants to the outskirts of the cities Ñoften to areas of high technological riskÑ, increases the high vulnerability due to malnutrition and endemic diseases, bad health and housing conditions. Economic and political dependency and weaknesses make planning difficult, especially in areas related to predisaster preparedness, with low political salience and priority or immediately palpable effects. Large illiteracy among the citizens makes difficult in many cases to disseminate information about risks or evacuation (Dory 1985: 37). A clear example of the societal context in predisaster preparedness is the following appreciation of Randolph C. Kent: One six-inch nail that joins a beam to the vertical joist of a house in a jamaican village means that the probability that the house will be destroyed in a hurricane is significantly lessened. However, the ability to afford that nail means that the homeowners economic and social situation become critical factors. (1987: 4)

In the aftermath of disasters more vulnerable societies have to face major disruptions. Previous social tensions gain actuality, inequalities tend to become worse and the most destitute are often the most affected, despite possible partial betterments in the stages of reconstruction. Social disruption Ñreal or feared, in addition to normal situationsÑ brings out authoritarian interventions and often legitimacy crisis. Lack in prevention lead to a large amount of spontaneity in responses, which often is experienced by authorities as a challenge. A disaster is a hard test of a government's reliability, and the reality in poor countries makes it still harder. When the disaster happens, necessary information for relief actions is often lacking, and in some cases the relief brigades face the calamity without maps, plans, coordination or suitable equipment. Lacking previous risk studies and relief priorities, dispersed or non existing technological resources, make the confusion worse and in consequence increase the losses. Dory pointed out that traditional responses in poor societies are of high effectivity and complexity, and not only official interventions decide the outcomes of a disaster (1985: 38). Reconstruction plans ought to consider modifications of the previous vulnerability, but the scarcity of available resources make planning fruitless and the intended actions are inefficient to attain foreseen goals. Non

existing insurances and often a great number of victims, anarchical and unpredictable help shipments, increased uncertainties in reconstruction, create a reality in which the provisional tend to be permanent and the level of vulnerability becomes in the face of future catastrophes, the same as before or even worse. In the reality of the poor countries... /...the/ real challenge to counteract the impact of disasters is to solve the problems posed by both urban and rural poverty, attempting to modify the structural causes behind them (Caputo et al. 1985: 11).

2- The Disaster

The disaster setting up both society and the natural and humanized environments becomes what we are tempted to call a total geographical fact: an entirety of apparently heterogeneous phenomena, however solidly articulated with each other. Dory 1985: 35

Existing plans, prevention policies or organizational networks are not by themselves a guarantee of successful management of the recovery. The contexts of disasters gain relevance here, and the degree of societal development is the conclusive condition for this. Usually the period of recovery is divided in three stages: emergency, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. To accomplish undertakings within these phases demand different inputs of personnel and capital. Most of recovery efforts are of local origin, and despite what many are likely to think, the role of external assistance is in the long term not decisive. The degree of vulnerability is going to largely define the outcomes of recovery, more than a plausible foreign aid. It is scarcely viable to plan all aspects of response, then planning can not cover all the aspects of reality and must be flexible to face paradoxes and unexpected eventualities. All disaster planning ought to be part of normal planning but is not. Most are adopted in the aftermath of disasters and coined by urgency and necessities of response. The best mitigation and preparedness policy would be a radical change in actual global development patterns.

Impact and Societal Response The real problems of disasters come long before and long after the actual impact of natural phenomena. Krimgold 1974: 7

A disaster is more than the event in its origin, or the impact this event causes. In restricted terms, disaster is the actualization of risks in a vulnerable environment affected totally or partially by an agent or trigger event (Dory 1985: 35, 36). The character of uncontrollable menace, apparent unpredictability and immutability given to hazards is not reason enough to disregard our ability to modify their consequences through social action. Certain economic and political practices constitute in fact impactaugmenting actions, including those of "the social forces which seek to limit the accumulation, refinement and application /of hazard-related knowledge, expressed in an/ uncontrolled selection of building location, design and materials", and the lack of preparedness to act in the aftermath, despite centuries of knowledge about risks and hazards in the area in question. (Littlewood 1985: 206). Systematic academic studies about disaster management in public administration are a rather new research subject. An effort of discipline building started in the US in 1983. motivated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (foreword in Comfort 1988). Nevertheless, former studies focused on the authority's response were many. This analysis gives relevance to the earlier discussed concept of context. and it shows that all response policy mixes three possible strategies: First, to assist individuals and organizations; second, to allocate resources, tasks and time to establish organizational structures and procedures; and third, to establish a pattern of communication links between individuals, organizations and resources engaged in emergency activities. These three possible strategies may be the ground of an organizational network, but it must be clearly stated that the efforts to build up such networks do not imply a total control of disaster situations; but their complexity made necessary a permanent adaptation of the designed policies and operational networks in the light of new emergencies including feedback of experience (Comfort 1988: preface).

Each disaster, despite its uniqueness, encompasses similar problems and challenges. The disaster areas present different kinds of damage and therefore different societal responses. A traditional framework for analysis defines spatial zones of disaster and sequential actions along time. According to this approach, the impact of a disaster is felt by society in successive concentric circles of effect. Not only the directly affected victims must face the emergency, but in different degrees, all social networks cope with it. General pre-disaster preparedness is of course one of the decisive conditions of post-disaster relief. According to Wallace (in Krimgold 1974) there are five distinct spatial zones in a disaster area: * Total impact * Fringe impact * Filtration * Organized community help * Organized national (or international) help

Next figure represents the relationship among these areas.

Figure 2.1: Spatial zones of disaster (Adapted from Krimgold 1974: 44)

The zone of total impact may result unclearly defined but destruction and death within it are more severe than in outer areas. The zone of fringe impact is also directly affected, but damages and casualties are considerably less. Direct damages do not affect the filtration area, but it suffers from drowning of the existing facilities: large number of injured, homeless and refugees may filter into it, and poor sanitation and diseases are likely to occur here. Fire and police departments, emergency personnel, organized medical and hospital services, or relief agencies, belong to the zone of organized community help: The effects of the vulnerability levels are evident here. Rich and poor countries show different realities, which gains relevance in defining the zone of national or international aid. The

size and wealth of a country and the character of the impact, may determine in what proportion the needed help would be satisfied with domestic resources or with international assistance

The recovery

The period of recovery in the aftermath of disasters is usually divided into three sequential time phases Ñemergency, restoration, reconstructionÑ to simplify a cluster of actually simultaneous activities. To each phase correspond different societal coping undertakings. The aim of emergency is to assure the survival of the victims, save lives and support immediate human needs. Afterwards, the phase of restoration and reconstruction begins. The restoration Ñor rehabilitationÑ aims to establish a temporary social infrastructure. The goal of the last phase, permanent reconstruction, is to recover at least the former level of self-subsistence. Here the possibility of new disasters must be contemplated and the pre-disaster preparedness usually is upgraded. The pace back to normality could be long, but for Kates and Pijawka it is regular and well known. Recovery is a sequence of events and processes ordered by activity, regular in time and space requirements, and explainable in terms of a few significant factors. The contexts play a decisive part. The sequence of recovery "is a function of predisaster trends, the damages suffered, the resources available for recovery, and, to a lesser degree, leadership, planning and organization".(l977: 1ff.). The stages in recovery and the aims of societal undertakings in each stage are presented in following table.

Table 2.1: Stages and social undertakings within the recovery. Stages



Emergency responses


Restoration of the restorable

Reconstruction Reconstruction of the destroyed for functional replacement

Further reconstruction for commemoration, betterment and development.

Time requirements are appraised according to a rule of thumb: each one of the stages within recovery lasted approximately ten times longer than the previous one. Kates and Pijawka proposed a model in which the activities within each period are represented "on a logarithmic scale of time as equal intervals. Within each interval, the distribution of coping activity is approximately normal" (Kates-Pijawka l977: 1ff.). The curve for each period is drawn according to a scale minimum to maximum for measuring the intensity of the typical activities in it. Analyzing concrete recovery processes, the more the curve looks like the normal distribution curve Ñthe Gauss' curveÑ the more regular, ordered Ñand predictableÑ the process is). The end of the periods is defined by the achievement of goals, and according to them it is possible to establish indicators of recovery. Ground assumptions for this model are strong simplifications and in my opinion the model coes not give the disaster contexta the necessary weight. Later research tended to consider contexts as the decissive factor for the outcomes of a disaster and the posterior reconstruction. Table 2.2 presents indicators and requirements in time within each period. The different degrees of disruption are also considered.

Table 2.2: Periods Within Recovery (According to Kates 1977: 1ff . Normality Time requirement End of the period

Emergency ceased days - weeks

Restoration patched weeks - months

Reconstruction rebuilt months - years

Cessation of search and rescues. Drastic reduction of massfeed and emergency housing. Principal ways cleared.

Functioning major services, utilities and transport. Return of refugees. Substancial clearance of rubble.

Replacement of population and its principal needs. Functional replacements of housing, jobs, capital stock and urban activity.

Post-disaster activity demands different inputs of personnel and capital. The immediate disaster circumstances of the first phase can justify enormous input from national or international sources. In the second phase, inability of local resources to compensate for economic loss will justify further though less dramatic assistance. As the third phase comes to completion there must be a normalization of non-local input (Krimgold 1974: 47) Experience revealed that in almost all disasters the greatest volume of activity and material involved in recovery is of local and regional origin. International assistance reached its peak during the first phase but national aid lasts a long period, often into the third phase. The particularities of a disaster situation become less relevant in the last phase, and the general development pattern in place are the conditions determining reconstruction. Then reconstruction is entirely subject to the limitations of the non-disaster context (Krimgold 1974: 47). The degree of vulnerability gains substantial relevance in reconstruction, both in terms of personnel input and capital for necessary expenditures. Here though international aid can play a part its inputs occur mainly in the beginning. Local personnel and capital bear in the long term the weight of reconstruction. Effective disaster preparedness must regard the local reality in the affected place. Neither national nor international relief can in the long term effectively alone diminish vulnerability. The disaster is a brake in previous trends, and the recovery efforts usually aim to reattain former development levels, in best cases with improvements in pre-disaster preparedness and with lower vulnerability. Nevertheless, assistance inputs may bring a higher level of development than the one expected, inclusively bring changes in local cultural patterns (otherwise, if insufficient, to a

lower degree of development). Then, reconstruction may attain similar, higher or lower levels of development than expectable in the place in question, mostly but not exclusively depending upon local development trends. Foreign assistance could bring about changes. But when speaking about foreign assistance we must keep in mind that it is a one-way transfer from wealthy countries or IGOs to the poor ones: Rich countries, with resources and low vulnerability do not need foreign assistance to the same extent, often not at all. The figure below displays the shifting needs of material and personnel inputs during the three phases, and their origin. The figure represents the reality of developing ÑpoorÑ countries.

Figure 2.2: Origin of inputs along time (Adapted from Krimgold 1974: 48)

during the emergency, simultaneous and different requirements must be urgently satisfied in many spots. Coping actions stem "from the high portion of the capital stock that has been damaged or destroyed, and by the number of dead, injured, homeless and missing." (Kates and Pijawka 1977: 2). Mostly, concrete tasks have limited, short-term effects, aiming to reestablish normal patterns of social life. In disasters, "communities and their residents can be thrown quite literally into another world. Normal day-to-day social and economic functioning are disrupted and may cease." (LaPlante 1988: 217). Despite possible pre-disaster planning, spontaneous action gains significance and in some cases prevail. Grassroots response usually starts at once in well-populated zones, while the institutional response depends on administrative routines to start. A magazine commented after the 1990 earthquake in San Francisco that spontaneity had been very important in facing the disaster, and this "confirmed a lesson learned from other

disasters: /grassroots/ efforts can produce more efficient responses than bureaucracies" (Newsweek 19891030: 32) This affirmation is undoubtedly veracious after a disaster with extended and differentiated pattern of damages, as in the case of earthquakes in urban environments, but effective response depends not only upon grassroots or bureaucracies, but upon the general context in which both of them have a place. People simply try to help the victims Ñand do not wait for rescue corps with specialized skills or devicesÑ and spontaneity is of course a meaningful response, but the responses are of various character. Coping actions occur indeed at two levels: a macroeconomic level Ñthe communityÑ and a micro level Ñindividuals and householdsÑ. To each level belong different responses. LaPlante classified response activities as shown in Table 2.3. Table 2.3: Response activities under emergency (According to LaPlante 1988: 218) At community level

*At individual/household level

* Normal activities suspended or changed * Search and rescue of victims * Social/familiar structure disrupted * Emergency shelters set up * Emergency feeding/clothing * Clearance of debris begins

* Social/familiar activity disrupted * Search and rescue of victims * Temporary housing sough * Food/clothing sought

Under the period of restoration the affected community returns to a relative normality. Damaged utilities, housing, commercial and industrial structures capable of being restored are again in function. The length of this period depends logically on the degree of damages, but mostly on societal contexts. In societies with large resources "the restoration period will, for all intents and purposes, be over in a matter of months; in other societies, it may carry on well beyond a year" (Kates and Pijawka 1977: 3). The activities tend to patch up what was damaged, in all senses. Responses at macro and micro level show following features, as shown in Table 2.4.

Table 2.4: Response activities under restoration (According to LaPlante 1988: 218 *At community level * Normal activities resumed * Cessation of search * Shelters closed * Debris cleaned

*At individual/household level * Family/social ties may be restored * Mourning * Rebuilding of or return to homes * Possible relocation * Health effects may become known

The last and longest period of recovery is the reconstruction. Then, "the capital stock is rebuilt to predisaster levels and social and economic activities return to predisaster levels or greater.".(Kates and Pijawka 1977: 3). The analysis demonstrated that some recovery activities lasted for a longer period, but they can be considered societal development in normal times, as construction of large scale projects. Kates and Pijawka include a fourth period, commemorative, betterment and developmental reconstruction to memorialize the disaster and mark the recovery. Table 2.5 show social undertakings within both periods. The process of recovery attracted in the late 1970's the attention of researchers, and their findings tend to contradict each other, mostly about patterns of economic recovery. For Haas and his coresearchers Ñamong other Kates and PijawkaÑ the disaster exacerbated predisaster trends, and an increased external disaster aid allowed a faster rebuilding. For Wright and other, after large studies of statistical data, the disaster does not alter Ñwith exception of short term changesÑ the previous tendencies with residual and observable effects. Methodological problems in both studies were many ). Table 2.5: Response activities under reconstruction (According to LaPlante 1988: 218)

At community level

At individual/household level

* Community rebuilds * Jobs restored * Commerce resumes * Disaster memorialized * Large-scale construction * Mitigation

* Return to work * Social activities resumed * Health effects * Mental health effects

An important contribution from the study of Wright was the development of a measure of disaster severity that is specific to the location of the event, which they called an impact-ratio: Resources Lost/Available Resources. Lost resources are in this impact-ratio a proportion of available resources. In this way the authentic seriousness of a disaster is measured in its own context, in the reality of the affected community. Then, similar events have more implications in a small or poor community that in a metropolitan wealthier area. A study by Friesema et al, presented in 1979, indicated that all of the communities studied showed rapid progress toward recovery, regardless of the initial severity of the event, but all the studied communities received large amounts of outside assistance. This study considered cases in the US (LaPlante 1988: 220 ff. ). This gives relevance to the observations of several researchers ÑHaas, Krimgold among othersÑ that assistance inputs are decisive for the outcomes of recovery. Nevertheless, their weight consists in the improvement of context factors by furnishing for example capital, skills or implements, and therefore modifying vulnerability; in reality, foreign assistance may be considered a positive modification of pre-existing Ñor non existingÑ preparedness. A more equalitarian development in global terms, ie, to give assistance before it is needed, could play the same part. To link pre-disaster planning with development planning is nowadays a cardinal goal in the action programs of many NGOs and IGOs. An additional trouble for assistance is that all estimation of economic losses is in reality imprecise, due to both the complexity of the affected economic networks and the difficulties in establishing suitable methods for calculations). Necessary methodological refinement in the research will give clarity to the differences in recovery for communities and households, and to the process of "made the invisible visible" in planning for recovery, as Kates and Pijawka opined. Many decisions "whether by design or by default" are taken within the recovery, decisions with importance for posterior developments in the affected community.(LaPlante 1988: 235) Previous planning and very concrete policies of disaster preparedness are the necessary conditions to cope with a disaster. Disaster planning must be part of normality.

Adjustments to hazard

A disaster-prone area is exposed to risks with recurrent actualization, and the time span between two disaster occurrences is a chance to prevent and ameliorate losses through preparedness and mitigation. Disaster policy is much more than the bare organization of recovery and it must be considered part of normality, but it is not. Policy making about disaster preparedness Ñsustained Peter J. MayÑ takes place in two different political worlds, namely a "normal" world and another "active" one. He analyzed US' disaster policy, and commented: /in the normal world of politics/ disaster policy has low political salience and, as a result, is relegated to the backwaters of legislative committees and agency activity. The second world is the "active" one of disaster policy making that occurs in the aftermath of major catastrophes. /In/ this second world, disaster policy has high political salience featuring intensive media attention and politician's desires to help disaster-struck communities (May 1988: 237). The most effective mitigation and preparedness policies belong to the "normal" world and are of lesser popularity. When the disaster occurs much money is expended in the "active" world, with poor results beyond the emergency or reconstruction periods. Experience from many observed disasters shows posthumous measures taken in the normal world. This is the case of most US' legislation about catastrophes (May 1988: 244).

A disaster is a challenge to all aspects of the way of living. The debate arises, and in an atmosphere charged with conflict, the authorities have to adopt new laws and directives on emergency management. Many stakeholders have own points of view and needs, and the authorities must contemplate them, establishing preferences through political choices. Adjustment policy is, in many aspects, a matter of problem structuring, a cultural and political matter: "rather than being objectively given, policy problems are socially constructed or defined, the products of decision makers imposing their frame of references in problematic situations." (Pavlak 1988: 24). The range of adjustment comprehends policies of preparedness, mitigation, and warning systems. A successful adjustment to future disasters ought to contemplate aspects of democracy in decision taking, in the possibilities of communication and allow a general public participation in policy making issues. Table 2.6 aims to present an adaption of May's observations in USA to a more general view. Despite studies of risk or prevention programs, all preparedness must face the fact that the degree of vulnerability is for the most ignored. For example, observations in California in the light of the experiences from the

1985 Mexican earthquakes,showed this. Public awareness was high, technical information about risks likewise, and the likelihood of a future major earthquake was sure, but suitable information about vulnerability lacked. This does not mean that people were unprepared but instead they did not clearly know "what they are prepared for and how to do it effectively". Programs in force generally "lack clear and measurable objectives, ample resource allocations, and adequate levels of public and official commitment." (Waugh 1988: 115ff.). Table 2.6: Disaster relief policy making (According to May 1988: 238) Features

Aftermath of disasters

Time between disasters

Salience of relief issues Legislative rules and influence The authorities role'

High Special post-disaster laws To define and shape disaster policies.

Low Legislation only by "experts" Influence limited to pass regulations.

Central-local relationships

Centrally commanded efforts. Episodic.

Resultant policies

Responsive to disasters at hands, skewed towards catastrophic events.

Local action. Permanent Less affected for the latest disaster. General policies


Definition problems are also actual in planning the response to disaster. Lewis (1988: 164) sustained that the terms disaster and emergency are used as synonymous by many authors, despite their difference. For him emergency referred to an entire event, while disaster described such events with extensive negative consequences. Emergency management entails assignments of responsibility and decision making to avoid the consequences of disasters, ie, it takes place before the disastrous event. Disaster preparedness is one among other emergency management functions, entailing activities to minimize damages and enhance disaster response operations. Functionally, disaster preparedness overlaps somewhat with disaster mitigation and is perhaps most closely associated with disaster planning, although it includes a number of other activities involved in implementing and testing emergency plans and preparing for disaster response. (Waugh 1988: 113). Clarity in concepts is important, but nevertheless all attempts of classification or division have to be flexible. As discussed above the response phase comprehends identifiable periods, in which different

activities could be place, but such division in periods may influence the identification of management activities in a wrong way. For example the activities in the first response period are indeed initiated as soon as some form of specific warning occurs –and not after the ocurrence of the disaster –and they go on through the emergency recovery period. The overlap between categories “limited any rigid attempt to place activities in a time related developmental sequence” (Lewis 1988: 164). Lewis suggested a model aimed to attain more accuracy in describing maagement activities. The next figure illustrates this modelm Figure2.3: Emergency event stages (Adapted from Lewis 1988: 165)

DAMAGED Usually, activities within recovery are represented as steps along a time axis, first the emergency and last the improved preparedness. Normality falls outside the extremes of the axis, and the character of singularity of the disaster is reinforced. In the model proposed by Lewis, the phases of emergency events are ordered in a circular sequence, instead of along a line, that could be interpreted as a spiral going through different levels of preparedness grounded on new experiences likely to have feedback effects. This model puts emergency management clearly in the field of planning ofr normality. This model puts emergency management clearl in the field of planning for normality. Preparedness and response are tightly related, because the emergency becomes part of everyday’s life. Cultural – sociopolitical- factors gain in this view deeper relevance in conditioning the response. In the response there are specific necessity-related activities stemming from two major sources: event-culture generated and response management generated. Event-culture need-related activities. ...includes those types of activity generated by the event itself –its nature, scope, and intensity- and are essentially dictated by the values, norms and available technology of the general society. /...On the other hand, responsemanagement generated activities are required during all three stages of the response period. /...With the exception of planning, these activities basically encompass the traditional activities asociated with administration: planning, organizing, staffing, leadership and control. (Lewis 1988: 165). Lacking detailed knowledge about vulnerability and, certainly, about all possible effects of potential events require that planning must be flexible and allow space to improvisation. During major events, independent and innovative thinking are needed. It is necessary to clearly define roles and

responsibility for coordination, but this necessity may not cause ambiguities and disruption in comunications. Some degree of centrality is indispensable but likewise, centralized coordination could cause delay in actions, overload of data and a separation between the points of decision and action (Lewis 1988). Planning for disaster ought to contemplate these paradoxes. Other paradoxes in disaster planning are related to the possibility of warning the population about impending catastrophes. Many authors pointed out that a warning could cause chaos instead of saving lives, and it is problematic in several ways. Which authority would be responsible of disseminating or holding the information? What happens if the event does not occur? Should the people be warned a longer time in advance, with the possible consequence of paralyzing normal life, or only when the danger is imminent? Evacuations pose problems too: even if evacuation plans are necessary, the development of the action is highly dificult, and people often feel extreme dislike for the situation. Discipline and military-like organization are necessary in massive operations, ad evacuations have succeeded only under very special circumstances (O’Riordan 1986, Geispel 1987, etc.). Other important factor in dealing with disasters is that statistics on this subject suffer from problems of classification and categorization. Against the assumption that disasters are increasing the usual counterargument is that what increases is the information about them. Bindi V. Shah drafted a global survey 1947-1980 and he concluded that “the number of disaster is increasing and high death tolls are still a characteristic of less developed, low income countries” (Shah 183: 26). He analized the methodological approaches in former evaluations and advised against difficulties in classification. Similar conclusions are drawn in many studies, among other in Burton (1978) and in latter research for example in Hagman (1984). Randolph C. Kent (1987:8) sustained that not only the number of events was increasing, but the number of those affected did it too, and single disasters could have mega-proportions, due to a continuing combination of economic crisis, low and unstable food production, ecological deterioration, population, and other pressures on the environment. The difference in damages among rich and poor countries is observed and underlined in all the referred analyses. The resolution of United Nations to choose the 90’s as the International Decade for Natural Hazard Reduction is a sign of the increasing public awareness about the occurrence, frequence and magnitud of disasters. There have always been disasters, but in our days /What/ changed were their magnitud and intensity, and the concern about them embodying a multidisciplinary view on their socioeconomic and

evironmental impacts, and also on the societal, economical and environmental causes provoking them (Caputo et al. 1985:9).

Information and disaster "Though they said it in the news, it was true" A volonteer in Monsivรกis 1987:47

The decisive importance of communication and information in a disaster is stressed by many researchers. Tounderstand it, to measure its effects to plan the recovery, all that depends on the reliabilityof gathered data and on the possibility of communicate it. In the aftermath, the debate the debate on political and developmental issues prospers. Victims, relatrives to them, rescuers, authorities, the mass media, the international network of disaster relief, all of them demand information; Without functioning information channels, assistance could not work. In present-day reality , if the mass media does not report about a disaster, then the disaster is merely nonexisting outside the directly damaged zone. This subject is additionally extended and the many approaches emphazise particular items of interest. I will limit my exposition to relevant aspects for the case study presented in the second part of this book, also to a general background about constraints and possibilities of mass media in the context of disasters.

Disasters in the media

The role of the media in disasters shows several facets. Instead of being an additional problem in disaster situations —as some officials are likely to consideróthe real problem could be their absence. Before, during and after a disaster the media has an important part to play. For example, the researchers stress the large possibilities of media in education campaigns about tasks and pre-disaster measures, and their essential participation in the case of warnings or in supplying information and advising victims and rescuers. Newspapers, radio and TV-stations can also act as information centers for individuals and organizations, or be links between the citizens and the disaster managers. News media have public confidence, appertain to the "normal world" upset by the disaster and therefore they may effectively contribute to a coming back to normality. Certainly, they could pose some problems. The media can for instance affect the effectivity of rescues by provoking the arrival ofnosy people or spreading myths and rumors, or biasing the nature of the response (Scanlon et al. 1985: 123ff). Working conditions for the mass media limit the reporters' action: they have to make a story and the story has tio engage the public, ie, to have a handle. Otherwise, there is no story. A disaster is often a good story but this story however must be kept alive and for that goal the description of particularities in the phenomenon is not enough: additional handles become necessary. In this way new views gain significance and the disaster as a piece of news fades away. Criticisms, conflicts or spoiled help supplies are customary handles(12)1. As many researchers commented, journalists tend to mutual cooperation and share gathered news or sources, which implies the potential danger of disseminating erroneous data. In addition, the weellknown echo-effect in media reporting multiplies this possibility. Inaccuracies in the first reporting may be taken for veracious pieces of news and repeated as such in other media. Musson refers to the way in which newspapers report earthquakes and proposes a classification of errors including five categories: total fictions, factual errors, exaggerations, embelishment and inadequate reporting (1986:218). He analyzed British press since 1700. Perhaps exaggeration is the most habitual error: this derives often from pluralizing single observations or accepted but not corroborated testimonies from witnesses.


It is a well known fact that a few higly multinational corporations have a virtual monopoly over the international gathering and dissemination of informations which implies additional biases in reporting disasters.

Other sources of error are related to inadequate information due to inaccuracies and the reporter's lack of scrutiny (Musson 1989: 219, 220). The development of news media have eliminated the extrem examples, we hope... Nevertheless, journalists need specific knowledge to inform properly. Woodhouse affirmed that regarding earthquake hazards, whereas the number of scientific or technological oriented jounalists have multiplied in recent years, it is still small and a substantial fraction of them should be educated (1989: 78). Planning for emergency management has to contemplate the satisfaction of the specifical need of different media channels. Here the managers must reckon with limitations in concern and knowledge and technological diversity among television, press and radio, their particular audience and different views about the ongoing disaster. Radio, for example, wants quick, first information. It wants to be first. TV wants visual, a telephone coonversation will not suffice. Print, which lacks the speed of radio or the emotion of color TV, wants depth and graphics. Photographers may also be more aggressive because thaeir pibtures need to be exclusive to counter the emotional impact of TV (Scanlon et al. 1985: 128). The uncertainity and complexity of disasters is an irritant for journaslists, and so is the reluctancy of experts to simplify statements. Clarity and simplification in tehe view of, perhaps, fringe sources, could give them a relevance they otherwise may not deserve. "The more didactic the assesment, the greater is the possibility that such views will become news." (Kent, 1987:108). A journalist's contact network could gain large importance to keep a story alive. In this way, the views of some actors –the ones in touch with the reporterómay be transformed in news. Reporters are not experts, their knowledge about disasters is often as limited as their familiarity with the affected areas. They depend on specialists to gather facts. Contact at different levels with NGO or authorities may outcome in partialities or inaccurancies. A field worker sees primarily his/her own NGO's undertakings, an official wants perhaps to avoid panic, a delegate from an international agency has to regard its interests and perspectives. So, a feedback-loop is established. The network creates the story and media reports modify the ongoing coping process by focusing in some items. "If the media determines that the relief network has beeing slow in providing temporary housing, it then becomes priority." (Kent 1987: 108). A disaster story with a suitable handle may not always reach the public.

The media are competitive industries, and what is regarded as newsworthy results from competition for the public oncern among a lot of pieces of news. A famine could last several months but the audience will soon get bored with the famine story. It had to compete for public attention with other stories. The coincidence of a severe cyclonic storm and a stock market crash in Great Britain in October 1987, transformed the view of the storm in a kind of metaphor for the events in economy. "/Public/ interest might have been focused on the shortcomings of British policies for disaster preparedness and response" but it was abruptely refocused on global financial trading." (Mitchell et al. 1989: 402). Denouncedment of irregularituies or shortcomings, such sell much more than the less dramatic recovery process, and the need of new handles often transforms the story. The Bophal disaster opened up the issue of the moral obligations of multinational corporations, /the/ Etiopian famine story was transformed into one concerned with the inherent failings of state-controlled agriculture (Kent 1987: 106ff).

Further, the media "can and do create myths about disasters (Scanlon et al. 1985: 123). Those myths have been –areóan added obstacle for coping with and to understand calamities. Most relief operations have had to face some unfounded beliefs, and despite decades of research findings against these convictions they remain alive. Among the most tenacious there are the following: *Dead bodies will lead to catastrophic outbreaks of exotic communicable diseases. *Mass vaccination campaigns become a public health priority after disasters. *Any kind of international assistance is needed and it is needed now! *The affected population is too shocked and helpless to take responsibility for their own survival (UNDRO, video).

Those myths are in the background of most emergency management and relief operations. In consequence, they affect negatively the comprehension of the casualties and the design of more effective coping strategies.Belief in myths results in prioritysetting and in conflicts with, for example, spontaneous coping actions at grassroots level or in uneffective help. Information: clue to assistance

The role of the media in leading assistance has increased with the development of a worldwide relief network with complex structure, where government agencies are intertwined with IGO and NGO, some among them –as the Red Crossólarge and mighty. Information coming in in the

relief networkis the usual stimulous to start assistance undertakings. The media is not the only way for the relief network to gain knowledge on the occurrence of disasters. Information stems also from unforeseable sources Sources may be volonteers, ambassades, internatioinal officers, official request, and many other. Large NGO have own channels. The Red Cross, for example, gathers and centralize information on ongoing disasters and assistence requests in Geneva, through its own network. When some of its 131 national organizations demand assistance the demand is redistributed to the other national members which supply the needs (Christer Åquist , officer from the Swedish Red Cross, personal communication). Thousands of minor NGO have no comparable resources. Nevertheless, there are international, regional and domestic coordination mechanisms, as the International Council of Volontary Agencies. Aid is moulded by them. It gains new content, is modified when running from link to link within the network. The channels of information are manifold and varied, almost chaotic. Between May 1985 and April 1986 there were at least eighty major disasters that led to assistance being received from the international community. Information about these disasters enters into the priority formulation process in a variety of ways, ways that are rarely consistent or predictable (Kent 1987).

Particular organizations have to decide if the disaster concerns their area of activites or interest and, though disaster have not lobbyists, assistance depends often of occasional alliances. "Yet, in the political process, disasters are in many respects orphans, depending all too often on beeing adopted by those with role and norm perspectives that have no ostensible responsibility for responding." (Kent 1987). The vigorous growth of the relief network, especially the increasing number of NGO under the last twenty years, implied more uncertainities. To coordinatre particularendeavours is difficult, and the communication among organizations must be bettered in order to attain more effectivity. The situation of disaster assistance is nowadays in a great deal moulded by technological achievements in the area of communications, particularly in video technology that transformed television –-instead of newspapersóin the principal media for disaster reporting (Kent 1987). A disaster story in television may reach hundreds of millions of people at the same time with a very large international exposure for them with roles in relief and recovery. However, a good handle can mobilize massive portions of the audience. A British TV-team found in 1984 a good handle in the refugee camp of Korem –starving children dying face to their camerasóand in this way the

world became aware of the extreme famine in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, hundreds of disasters happen yearly without attracting the media's attention implying a bias in response. It should not be the reporter's responsibility to guide international response, but in the peculiar nexus of the western press, pressure groups, public opinion, IGOs, NGOs and governments, the durability of the story is too often what counts in making relief network act. The influence of the media in this sense naturally conflicts with the need for a reporter to find a handle. (Kent 1987: 105).

Despite the real features of a disaster situation, the journalists' views often lead relief. They have to choose what they are going to stress in the reports but it poses ethical dilemmas: lots of homeless could bring in that tents and blankets gain priority and result send to tropical countries where other items perhaps are more needed. Starving people may result in donations of food and everything similar. Kent names corruption as a perennial handle in this context, what often lead donors to earmarking of relief money, difficult for recovery planning. Further, the medias' view of disasters differs from the one of relief organizations. Both disaster and assistance managers have to face that relief often depends on unpredictable views and uncontrollable contingencies, and tray to counteract it. Outside relief may depend not on what is needed but on what appears to be needed and this may be determined by outsiders reacting to media reports. Regional, state and national officials will have some firsthand sources about what has happened. Thay also will rely on the mass media to set the agenda for them. This may well lead to distortion as to the nature of the event and the appropriate response to it. /.../ The fact that information is published outside the country does not mean it cannot have a local effect. (Scanlon et al. 1985: 127).

An extended myth —perhaps also a good handleóis the portrayal of calamity victims as desolate and abandoned. The condition of helpless victims exists in the mind of donors rather than among those affected by a disaster. Even people in despair could and do develop coping strategies — at least they flyóbut their active attitude was seriously considered by major relief and donor organizations first in the 80's though decades of research findings confirmed it (da Cruz 1991a: 10, 11). The reaction of the victims are more normal than the reaction that outside people would likely expect. A myth believed by many people, probably generated by Holywood, is that victims respond to disasters with anormal behavior It is a commonly held view that disasters incite panic, hysteria, rioting and shock, and leave victims too dazed to deal with the situation. Numerous sociological syudies has shown that this is not the case. Even in times of war. People ususally react deliberately both during and immediately after the disaster. While it is true that much confusion reigns and social organization may be disrupted, very quickly there is a coming together that results in spontaneous actions by the refugees as they look after

their own interests. Anormal behavior is the extreme exception, not the rule. (Cuny 1983: 86).

Myth are not only invented by the media. They include other components too. Hewitt considered the view of victims as helpless people beeing part of the technocratic monologue on disasters, a process of divorce between two facets within same reality similar to the one which put improductive people —mutilates, indigents, mentally different peopleóoutside society and in the hands of institutions. (Hewitt 1983). One can wonder if sometimes the donor's urge to help is not colouring assistance favored by considering the victims as apart, abnormal, in situation of inferiority and therefore ready to accept gratefully what the donors kindly decide. Though growing awareness on the real needs and on the active role the victims themselves play in emergency and recoveryy processes, to assist helpless victims is still the goal of most relief undertakings. Assistance may be the origin of unexpected questions. The development in transportation and communications since World War II, besides the reality of disasters in the ex-colonial countries, transformed disaster relief into an international, worldwide undertaking (Kent 1987). The assistance could be interpreted as a transfer of both material and cultural products as commodities, values, money and so on. It is mostly a one-way transfer from richer countries, IGO and NGO to poorer, damaged regions. Disasters becomes larger and affect more people, and at the same time the economic development reduces the number of potentially significant donors, all that reinforces dependency and conditions assistance.Aid-giving embodies a not worthless potential for propaganda and behind visible humanitarian aspects there are often a background of political, religious, diplomatic and economic considerations. This is a well-verifyed fact in many disasters. Behind diplomatic subtleties and components of empathy and solidarity the real effectiveness of massive aid operations is questioned. Within the dominant view disasters are excepcional events and in consequence assistence is also mostly exceptional and carried on in the short term. Intentions with assistance are nevertheless changing, and in fact in donor countries "quick and dirty" helping programs (Cuny 1983: 264) coexist with long-term undertakings. Undoubtedly, long-term programs will achieve better outcomes than rescue teams or emergency food flown from several thousand kilometers away. Many time will go by before an attempt in the direction of the new kind of programs could reach important outcomes.

Information policy

The central media role in disasters is well established but a frequent complaint from media people is lack of provision, ever made, before their inevitable presence. Public information is a large need in disaster situations and disaster managers must be ready to meet it. The demand for information can last for several days and require hourly updates. Citizens may aggresively seek information from multiple agencies thus tying up phones and personnel. Normal communication systems may be temporarily inoperative creating a need for alternative approaches. (Kartez and Kelley 1988: 131ff.).

Authorities have particular information demands and the need to communicate with both the citizens and the media. In the reality of disasters , particularities are many and the demand for decisions is "based upon disparate, conflicting, incomplete sources of information under critical pressures of time." (Comfort 1988b: 344).Information is then a precondition for decision making and involves a great deal of ability to improvise. In disasters, emergency planning must therefore include directives for gathering and dissemination of information. This is nott free from troubles. The first problem is how to gain credibility as a serous source. Emergency management agencies ought to develop activities during both normal times and in calamities andf a first requisite for credibility is a clear assertion of the agency's existence. Citizens must have a chance to unequivocally identify it. Another challenge is the necessity to establish a system for two-ways communications between the agency and the citizens, both through the media, and especially tailored educational activities and materials. (Perry and Nagg 1985). This is not free from complications. Here again the role of experts becomes open to qquestion and the particularities of cultural contexts gain in relevance. "Realistically, peoples attitudes and intentions will be influenced not only by what they learn in information campaigns, but also by the ideas they have developed over many decades." (Ziegler and Johnson 1989: 354). If the audience do not entrust governmental officials, it is hard to think they will entrust an agency despite the efforts in giving it an identity or in tailoring educational campaigns. In the emergency after natural disasters, distrust and discontentness arise and this is a new challenge for authorities. A disaster is a hard testing of the relationship between citizens and officials, Robert Geipel (1979: 212) in his analysis of the Friuli earthquake in Northern Italy put into focus "strong ideological tensions" existing already before the

disaster, with an outcome of political struggles about emergency management and plans of reconstruction. Furthermore, as Daniel Dory stated, "authorities will seldom have the possibility of recovering the event in behalf of themselves." (Dory 1985: 39). In order to gain credibility the information from official sources has to be clear and veracious. Nevertheless, Ziegler and Johnson established an important qualitative difference between the information on natural disasters and on nuclear ones with validiry also for other technological accidents. Only remote inspection by experts or authorities can ratify the veracity of informations in the second case but the effects of natural disasters are palpable to everybody . Reliable information can be confirmed by human cognition, ie by comparing informative reports with field observations and corroborated by other parts' direct observations too. In natural disasters, citizens and journalists actively seek informations but in nuclear or comparable disasters they become hostages of the sources. "Where human systems are able to report the progress of natural disasters, only technological systems are able to report the progress of nuclear ones." (Ziegler and Johnson 1989: 355). This was evident in Chernobil, but it was valid in other technological catastrophes like the one in Bophal too. In Bophal neither the victims nor the medical emergency staff knew wath was indeed happening and wich measures to take (Kayasta and Nagg 1989). It is well known that the authorities in the Sovietic Union delayed 36 hours the first information on the accident in Chernobil wanting for reliable data! Before the rest of the world officially got the news on this accident 67 hours run away. (Seigler and Johnson 1989: 356). First suspicions about something going wrong arose in the technological system of a Swedish nuclear power plant. Something else was impossible. Not even the emergency personnel at Chernobil knew what they were exposed too. Natural disasters on the contrary are directly adverted. This allows a plausible informative feedback loop in which citizens both get information and are a source for media and officials, an usual occurrence that Ziegler and Johnson did not take into consideration. Then, there are several primary information sources in natural disasters but, on the contrary, in technological disasters sources are restricted and beyond any public control of their veracity. Those differences are visualized in Figure 2.3. DAMAGED

Figure 2.3. Information availability in nuclear and natural disasters. (Adapted from Ziegler and Johnson 1989: 354).

Disaster managers must take this into consideration. The examples demonstrate that unclear and contradictory information from not well identified sources lead to mistrust and more confusion as it happened in Mexico. Bewildering official data had to face serious disputes on credibility, and seirous suspicions about data manipulation arose. "The usual official control of the information could not be disguised by concealment or concealment or by diminishing figures and facts, what chronicles and interviews made known." (Arreola et al. 1986: 117). In case of disaster the nedia will be in place and made extensive demands or pressures on local disaster managers. If the officials do not satisfy this demand, or if information is not available, the media will find other ways to get a story. Concealment is difficult. The management of information requires nevertheless skilled perssonel and Scanlon and coresearchers tressed the significance of keeping track of what is actually been reported in order to avoid confusion. Good planning has to include an emergency operation center to which informations flow in. Such a center maust also coordinate the outgoing information with the different media and in through them reach the citizens. (Scanlon et al. 1985: 124ff.) In Mexico City, authorities delayed several days the necessary arrangements to centralize the information, which resukted in a very large confusion in which the most disparate estimation of losses could gain some credibility (da Cruz 1991b). The media become voracious consumers of information in crisis like a disaster. All reporting routines will probably change and exceptional nonstop radio and TV programs and extra press editions succeed each other. In slow recovery processes for example, without a spectacular chain of incidents, there is a risk for to make up or invent news, ie, handles to keep the story alive. (Scanlon et al. 1985: 128). Another problem arising in this context is that the news madia —especially in or from the most developed countries have means for disposal of advanced equipment as planes or helicopters and the ability of to employ them, and moreover large personal staffs with vehicles which can be in a rush in the disaster area. In some cases they can interfere with the endeavours of relief agencies, as research findings confirm. Sacanlon gave this problem a central place, and summed the situation in following terms. The real problems of media disaster relations are not, however, the difficulty of gathering accurate information, the difficulty in reaching the media with it and the different approaches taken by various media, rather, it has to do with the fact that

disasters bring to the scene, immediately, an enormous number of reporters, many of whom are well-equipped with expensive and elaborate communications sistems, including direct access to satellite transmitters. Local emergency planners, especially those used to dealing with weekly newspapers and small radio stations are likely to be overwhelmed by this media invasion. (Scanlon et al. 1985: 128, 131)

This observation was made in USA's disasters but it gains validity for other countries. In Mexico City, the occurrence of a veritable invasion of international press following foreign rescue teams or reporting about the earthquakes posed additional management problems.

Towards a more dynamic approach After considering some explanations about what a disaster really is, we arrived at a preliminary conclusion. To define disaster as the opposite of normality is not free from trouble. Considering from the point of view of the living conditions of citizens affected by itm mysery can actually and without hesitation be considered as a state of disaster in spite of its "normal" regularity and duration in time. High levels of risk exposure and vulnerability affect those suffering all kind of shortages and are exposed to noxious agents. People living in deprivation, lacking for intsance housing, means, food and medical care, are not able to cover the daily needs and their life dvelopes under conditions of permanent emergency. To think in this way perhaps modifies the usual definition of disasters, traying to embrace such aspects of "normality" too. A possible broader definition could be the following: a disaster —with independence of the agentótakes place when a significant deal of the inhabitants temporarily have to undergo a shorter or larger period of social deprivation, allthough deprivation is the normality for severely impoverished social strata. Early and violent death, famine, diseases, misery are considered a disaster only when natural or man-made hazards add new social dimensions to such critical living conditions. Against the background of world-wide social inequlity, disaster and normality are in essence two faces of everydat's life. They are intertwinned in a dynamic relationship, and differ only in the number of people affected by critical situations. Naturally, they could not longer be considered qualitatively different, but quantitative, co-existing categories. To accept social inequality as normal, and at the same time consider as a disaster the traits that highlight the state of deprivation, is a biased and limited way of reasoning and lead us to the acceptance of development martyrs as a condition for normality when considered in both

global and local terms. Definitions also depend on the view about the relationshipnormality disaster. Firstly, if this relationship is considered to be static, then a disaster is a cut, a brake in normality. To cope with disasters means to reconstruct the statu quo ante, may be safely or improved in details. Secondly, according to the more dynamic viewpoint in which the condition of disaster is part of social development, recovery policies ought to entail social transformations aiming not only to reduce vulnerability and risks, but pointing to a new social reality where the conservation of health and life would really be considered basic human rights and the goal of development. I do not mean that this viewpoint excludes the character of excepcionalitydisaster do have, but I stress the point that the usual dichotomy disaster - normality is a cultural construction probably influenced by the condition in which the research and the approaches began to be developed. At a first glance the division in two categories looks reasonable, but considered in a broader perspective its consistence is more or less reduced to the point of view and ideology of the observer . Studies on hazard started in rich and developed countries but a global perspective put in evidence quite different premises. The gap between rich and poor societies becomes also manifest in the ways and means to cope with disasters, most im quality: richer societies manage at a much larger extent the preservation of life and in spite of suffering serious economic losses in monetary terms, their vulnerability is low and the capacity of recovery is high. This factor contributes too to consider disasters as exceptionallities, something that quickly marches by. The features commonly associated with the concept of disaster can also be pondered in relation to the influence of the mass media. The lifetime of a piece of news is limited, and the limitation reinforces the myth of a disaster as the exceptional evil opposite to good and normal social life. At the same time, the approach of the media spiced the most dramatic traits, the uncontrollable, the unpredictable, the menace. Further, information on disasters usually do not consider the geographic complexity of particular disaster environments and disregard the real socioeconomic features. All those factors contribute to build up in the community a sense of impotence and acceptance of unavoidable fatality, what could be a hindrance for a more effective preparedness. Disaster is perceived as another world, apparently outside politic and economic development and, in consequence, impossible to manage.

The gap between normality and disaster justify exceptions: certain socieral developments —even within the frame of a democratic societyóare betond the possibilities of public control, I mean for instance all kind of economic and administrative exceptions because of undustrial or strategical secrecy. The level of vulnerability and risk exposure related to military or industrial activities is usually difficult or impossible to establish. In poorer countries, situation could be even worse. Disaster preparedness must take into account such constraints. In the second part of this book I am going to analyze what happened when Mexico City had to face the crisis caused by the earthquakes in 1985. Certainly, I hope that all this discusion about social features of disasters could be a framework to understand the named case. The Mexican disaster was not exceptional seen from the above explaines viewpoint. The number and the intensity of disasters are likely to increase —or at least not to diminishódespite all efforts in planning for uncertainity, despite decades of mutual feedback between planners and researchers, despite worldwide analysis and experiences and the large and fast growing amount about both theories and practices of disaster management. Regarding this matter it is no possible to excuse the scarcity of achievements by addressing the faiures to lacks in knowledge, research or experience, On the contrary, perhaps the real crucial problem in coping with disasters is our own way to cope with normality.

The 1985 Mexican Earthquakes

Researchers agree in qualifying the 1985 Mexican disaster as a very large and serious one. Severe damages occurred in the real heart of the city, and the whole country must face the catastrophe. Besides a high death toll and a large number of injured people, the economic losses rose to several thousand million dollars. Nevertheless, the tremors had not been unexpected. The Mexicans have had to cope with large disasters in many cases, and it was in no way the first time Mexico City suffered destruction by a quake. On the ground of these facts, it may be difficult to understand how the victims were so many, and the losses so extensive. Further, the epicentre was 400 km from Mexico City, but despite this distance vast damages occurred in the country's capital, and the first response came from inexperienced and ill-equipped volunteers. As in all disasters, the sequence of developments that followed the earthquakes were conditioned by the previous normality in place. In Mexico, these developments affected a vulnerable population exceeding the coping ability and the existent planning for disaster prevention, inflicted heavy losses, and generated pressures for the adoption of new adjustments. Only the severity of the earthquake events can not explain such outcomes. Several components were amplified by contextual factors, for example, physical processes (insecure ground), human population (social crisis, impoverishment, high vulnerability), net losses (prolonged local economic disruption), failures in emergency action (organizational weaknesses), and legitimacy crisis (political strifes). It is necessary to consider these contexts to obtain a comprehension of what occurred. Whereas the tremors affected several places in the country, my analysis deals mainly with Mexico city. Obviously, some indicators will act as clues to grasp the totality of contexts. I aim to present here significant indicators pointing at the conflictive relationship between mankind and environment in Mexico City, and with relevance for the disaster context and its outcomes. To study such a long and complex social process about what a concrete disaster is, demands to figure out some strategical approach. Obviously, the ideal strategy, and the most difficult one to pursue, is for trained observers to be in place starting with the ’earliest manifestations’ or ’warning’ phase of a particular /disastrous/ event and continuing on

through until the shape of the later recovery phases can be seen, with people’s activities naturalistically described, and their effectiveness assessed. (Morren 1983: 286) An alternative way is to reconstruct the phases of the disaster by recovering data from different sources, looking at both the tremors and their contexts. A disaster is likewise a great piece of news, extensively mirrored in the media, but the media does not have a scientific approach to social events. Musson asserted that in contemporary press much significant data may go unreported for this reason (1989: 222). I mainly gathered data from Mexican newspapers, and since no field-work was attempted for the present study, the reliability of the collected information was cross-checked by comparing sources.

3. Disaster Environment The contexts, as asserted by Mitchell, are mainly independent of the hazard in itself. Societal developments and exogenous factors constantly change them. This poses methodological problems. It has been argued elsewhere that the study of hazard contexts requires the development of new investigative strategies. Three alternative approaches have been proposed /by hazards analysts/: analysis in a broad hazard context, analysis of components and contexts using different methods and concepts of each, and examination of linkages connecting hazard components and contexts (Mitchell et al 1987: 407).

Attempting to achieve a significative description of the landscape-as-wesee-it in Mexico City, I chose aspects that embraced explanatory relevance for the consequences of the quakes. Mexico City is a high risk zone. Human settlements modified the natural environment and increased the number of probable risks. Societal developments, mainly the growth of industries and population, aggravated the vulnerability of the inhabitants. This is what the disaster showed. The first part of this chapter deals with the environmental contexts of the disaster. The second part focuses on societal contexts, general risk awareness, prevention policies and disaster preparedness in Mexico City. Also the predominant socioeconomic background when the disaster occurred.

Environmental Contexts We have given corporeal reality to a pre-Columbian symbol. We are, at the same time, both the pyramid and the sacrifice... Enrique Krauze

The disaster happened at a place where the natural environment had been modified by human settlements through several centuries of occupation. In this chapter we are going to review the physical features of this place and how the natural support conditioned living in the Valley. Societal developments coined the original landscape transforming it into our days' megalopolis. The several centuries long man-nature relationship is referred here focusing on one of the main problems affecting the city, namely, water supplies and sewage.

The Valley of Mexico

Mexico is a federal republic with 31 sovereign states and a Federal District, the Distrito Federal (DF). The country has a surface of 1 960 000 sq km and an estimated population of 81 000 000 inhabitants in 1989 (Aguilera 1989: 182). The capital and largest town is Great Mexico City —the “Zona Metropolitana” (ZM)ówhere more than 20 000 000 people live. One thousandth of the territory is occupied by nearly one fourth of the country's total population. The Metropolitan Zone (ZM) occupies most of the surface of a broad valley, the Valley of Mexico, that is the southern vertex of the Great Central plateau, a high, triangle-shaped plain between the East and West Sierra Madre. The Valley itself measures 150 km from north to south and 119 km in the east-west axis, and is the node of a system of three valleys: Toluca, to the West; Puebla —way to the Gulfóto the East; and to the South the fertile and temperate valley of Cuernavaca. The terrain was formed by folds in the earth’s crust and by volcanic activity. There are many volcanic cones, some of them of considerable height. Tremors are frequent (Schmieder 1965: 33ff). The southeast area of today’s town settles on relatively recent deposits of lava (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 94). Its height over the sea level is 2260 m. in average. High volcanoes form the walls of the valley. To the East there is the Popocatepetl (5450 m. above sea level) and the Ixtaccihuatl (5286 m) and to the South and West the Sierra del Ajusco with other, though lower, volcanoes. Northwards the valley is open to the Great Central Plateau (Bataillon and Riviére l979: 6). In regards to political division, three quarts of this surface —about 8000 sq kmóbelong to both the state of Mexico and the DF. The northern part corresponds to both the states of Hidalgo and Tlaxcala (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 99). There are settlements in this place since ancient times. In the l4th century a group of nomads arrived in the valley, the Aztecs or Mexicas. High developed cultures had yet settled here. Teotihuacan for example which flourished in the 7th century as a religious center for the whole Central America, and the Cuicuilco ceremonial place —in the southern part of today's cityówas destroyed by a volcanic eruption the year 150 BC, several centuries before the Aztec arrived. The new inhabitants discovered the ruins from these and another places. (Gendrop 1987: 42ff ).The Aztecs became powerful enough to dominate the Valley and founded the capital of the empire, Mexico Tenochtitlan. Its foundational site was a little island in one of the former many lakes. The Z"calo, the main square of Mexico City, lies today in this place. Built over a few marshy islands in the center of a lake system, the town had a strategic emplacement very suitable for trade (Bataillon and Rivière 1979). Over time, a network of

interchanges, trade and tributes, controlled by the Aztecs developed here and reached so far as to Central America. Mexico City has always been a node. This character kept developing under the Spanish colony, when the trade routes between Asia and Europe met here, and in the actual republican period. The conqueror Hernán Cortés and his troops met in 1519 a large town, one of the largest in the world, of “at least 60 000 inhabitants” (Bataillon and Rivière 1979: 11) but “it will not be exaggerated if the population /was/ appraised in about 200 000 to 300 000 souls” (Schmieder 1965: 146). Cortés destroyed Mexico Tenochtitlan in 1521, and in the same place built the new Spanish colonial capital. The conquerors either killed or dispersed the native population and occupied the land. Nevertheless 30 years later the town was again an important urban center (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 15). During the Aztecs woods covered 54 percent of the Valley’s surface. In 1985 —the year of the tremorsóthey covered 14, 6 percent of it. Around 1900 the water surface was still 46 percent of the initial —more than 700 000 ha—, but in the 1980’s it was about 2 percent, namely to 15 400 ha. Larger lakes have almost extinguished in the Metropolitan Area, an area of about 1 000 000 ha. In this area, nearly 280 000 ha. were strongly or very strongly eroded. Of the total surface, a 40 percent was devoted to agricultural exploitation, and 135 000 more ha was urbanized, or covered by water (Ibarra et al, 1986: 101ff ) Human settlements, most along the latter 750 years and especially in modern times, transformed the environment in the Valley of Mexico from a woodland with lakes and islands to the biggest city in the world. Natural hazardous factors as earthquakes and volcanoes became more risky with the necessary territorial management to fit the site to a twenty million people large population. An example of the efforts to humanize the nature in the Valley is the management of water.

Water: the worst challenge

The management of water resources serve to illustrate the sustained modification of the natural environment. After hundreds of years trying to get rid of rainwater and sewage out of a close valley, the development in this century demanded increased potable water supplies. This implied large engineering works and resulted in the construction of a complicated system, a system very vulnerable to accidents or disturbances, but indispensable. The tremors damaged it seriously. Though the nature in the

Valley favored human settlements, the inhabitants of Mexico City brought the humanization of nature to an extreme extent. Indeed, Mexico City gets enough rain to satisfy most of the inhabitants' needs but the existing hydraulic system makes it impossible (Carabías and Herrera 1986). The Valley gets in its center 400 mm of precipitation a year, while in its edge it rains 1300-1500 mm. The surrounding mountains stop the humid winds.(Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 144). There is no natural drainage and therefore lakes and swamps covered in former times the surface of the bottom. Rainwater dragged volcanic stuff from the slopes and this enriched the soil but also increased the salinity of the lakes. At the same time, the Valley has plenty of sweet water springs (Bataillon and Riviére 1979 :145). The Aztecs built a system of canals and dams. This was necessary not only for transport, but for keeping sweet and salt water apart. Three such dams were at the same time causeways joining the town with firm land. These causeways were also the gates of the town, and they continued as roads through the Valley (Schmieder 1965: 141).Today, the thoroughfares in the city follow their trace. Floods could last for months in this place without drainage, until water evaporated. The Spanish town became encircled by a wall against floods 1535, but this problem was first mastered in the l8th century (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 15). Since the Valley is a high plateau open to the North, several works were made in this direction attempting to lead the water out. Around 1600 the Nochistongo tunnel was built (Schmieder 1965 :143). In 1788 the still today partially existing Lake Texcoco began to be drained northwards, and during the following years other streams and lakes were also canalized (Bataillon and Riviére 1979:16). Transport by canals remained in function until the end of last century. Aztec markets in connection with them supplied the town. In the same places the trade kept going until today (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 26). In the l9th century most of the canals disappeared because of increased population, and were transformed into streets or filled. Economic expansion demanded new land to build factories, railways and rich suburbs. This enormous and sustained effort allowed the development of agriculture on former sweet lake bottoms, but the desiccation of salt lakes —as the lake of Texcocoómade the fine soil stuff bare and when dry winds blow, large dust clouds fall over the town. The desiccated zone became flooded with rainwater during the rain season, until the beginning of the 60’s. These areas were in the 60's largely urbanized (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 94 and Schmieder 1965: 144). To satisfy the growing city between 1940 and 1946 a new net of sewage was dug (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 20) but

this net became insufficient some decades later. A Deep Drainage consisting of a 50 km long tunnel and a net of lesser collectors was built in the 80’s (Benítez 1988: 153). As a consequence of urbanization the level of the water table dropped. Subsoil sediments dried and contracted (Schmieder 1965: 144). The weight of heavy buildings on the unstable ground made it to sink too. In several zones, most evident in downtown, the original level had lowered as much as seven meters (Carabías and Herrera 1986: 63). The soil sunk but the sewers did not, and all sewage must be pumped up to the level of the sewers. This fact caused a flood in 1952: a break in the supply of electricity stopped the pumps. Since then, the sewage pumps have own generators, because a l5 minutes long break could signify a flood catastrophe (Benítez 1988: 153). Extraction of water from the subsoil to supply the town has been “anarchical and irrational /and caused/ the degradation of the water table”. The increasing population needed more water and it was necessary to import it from outside the valley: since the 60’s, fresh water comes from the neighbor valley of Toluca (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 122). In the 70's the old remaining canals were filled. Former water streams became piped or transformed into streets, and the clean rainwater they got instead became drained off with the sewage. The construction of a new and expensive project, the last and largest of a row of fulfilled projects for water supplies —the Cutzamala river Systemóstarted in 1978. It consists of seven barrages, a 127 km long aqueduct, and six pumping plants to surmount a 1000 m high gradient (Excélsior 19851001). All these large engineering works along centuries have brought severe upsets. In addition to sinking the ground, they had also “degraded the springs, dried norias and wells, caused cracks /in/ irrigation works” damaging the agriculture (Carabías and Herrera 1986: 63). In 1988, the distribution net in Mexico City comprised 520 km water mains and 13 000 km lesser pipes, fed by 587 large wells within or outside the Valley, 536 private wells, three springs, and the Cutzamala system. First between 1977 and 1982 the net was completely mapped (Benítez 1988: 154). The megalopolis

In 1928 the Federal District (DF) was created as the administrative center of the country. Until the middle of our century the built-up area of Mexico City developed within the borders of the DF, but they were later

overwhelmed, and new settlements grew on in the territory of the state of Mexico. The whole area is known as the Metropolitan Zone of Mexico City (MZ), and its surface was 117 sq km in 1940, but increased to 1000 sq km in 1980 (Ibarra et al 1986: 99) ). Messmacher describes the MZ as a continuous spot of urban and suburban areas. When the quakes hurt Mexico City its population was some 17 000 000 (Bustamante and Delgadillo 1985: 79). Between 23 and 31 million are expected to live there by the year 2000 (Messmacher 1987: 40). Then, the megalopolis will consolidate engulfing the growing cities of Toluca, Cuernavaca, Pachuca and Querétaro (Messmacher 1987: 32). Many plans and measures adopted during recent decades aimed to manage this several centuries old process of concentration and growth. Since 1970 the territory of the DF is divided in 16 delegaciones —i e political-administrative units or wardsówith certain autonomy. The inner city or downtown area loosely coincides with the old city, the four delegaciones of Miguel Hidalgo, Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juárez and Venustiano Carranza (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 101). This area was in the past often referred as Mexico City, and it constituted the core of the whole built-up area. The delegaciones do not correspond to the administrative units existing in the 31 federal states, the municipalidades, ie, municipalities or townships, but have an special status. (Bataillon and Riviére l979: 101).

Map 3.1: Political division and build up area in the Metropolitan Zone of Mexico City (Adapted from Ward 1990, figure 1)

DF's authorities are not chosen in elections, but directly named. The government of the DF (Department of the Federal District, DDF) has the range of a State Secretariat or Department and it is headed by a Regente or Mayor responsible before the country's President. DF’s wards are in charge of Delegados, representing the mayor Furthermore, the organization of the DDF is very complex, both with regard to the variety of functions that are performed and the structure of intraorganizational relationships. In addition to police and fire organizations, the DDF is composed of many subdepartments for such services as water, medical and health provisions, transportation, electricity, planning, housing, welfare, streets, and sewer. /.../ In understanding the organizational response to the earthquake, it must also be noted that the resources and organizational structure of the federal government itself are located within the boundaries of the DDF. The federal government also has many secretariats that functionally duplicate those at the DDF and delegaciones levels (Dynes et al 1990: 21)

Conflicts arose because of the indirect democracy: the inhabitants of the central area within the largest city on Earth, have no possibilities of chosing authorities, except through the national government. The situation has made the DF privileged before the states, and its special characteristics had a part to play after the earthquakes. Between the two parts of the metropolis there are discordances in planning, roads and transports, and the spatial and economic development of Mexico City was favoured by this division. In the period of industrial growth 1930-1970, Mexico City got a program of investments in public roads and in water, electricity and other power sources, what contributed to industrial concentration (Ward 1990). Later, when DF's authorities discouraged the location of more factories they were welcomed in the state of Mexico and important industrial zones grew up along the border, for example in Naucalpan and Tlalnepantla. Lower land prices in the state of Mexico allowed an explosion of popular settlements during recent decades too, with low living standards (Bataillon and RiviĂŠre 1979). In the towns of the state of Mexico integrated within the ZM there were more than 5 000 000 people living in 1980. Here the economic, politic and administrative reality was different. The state of Mexico is poorer than the DF and its authorities are democratically elected. Public investments and public services are better in the DF, which results in higher standards of living and education. Since the DF looks like a wedge penetrating the state of Mexico, the well-populated urban zones in the West are 100 km faraway from their administrative capital, Toluca, though in services and infrastructure they depend upon the DF and the rest of the ZM. In 1984, 64 percent of the population lived within the limits of the DF and

the remainders outside it, but this relationship is changing and by the year 2000 a proportion of 50/50 is expected. This means that a rapid growth is taking place in the surrounding ZM, and the genesis of Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl may illustrate it. This ciudad is mainly a dormitory for commuters to the DF. Settlements began here during the 50’s, when it was a scarcely populated area partially lying on the dessicated bottom of Lake Texcoco. In 1960 a municipality was created because of the increasing population. There were about 120 000 inhabitants. Ten years later, they had grown to 600 000 reaching the figure of 1 340 000 in 1980. About two million people settled there in 1987 (Messmacher 1987: 122ff). Such explosive urbanization is taking place in several spots within the valley and it leads to a “proliferation of irregular settlements around /Mexico City/, to a deterioration of public and social services, to shortages in dwellings, congestion in streets and lack of capacity in public transports.” (Messmacher 1987: 123). Most of Mexico’s economic and administrative life became concentrated in the Metropolitan Zone. Around 1980 a third of the industrial plants existing in the country were located here, and they accounted for 43 percent of the country’s gross product (Gustavo Garza in Excélsior 19851018: 4A). Only in the DF there were 33,4 percent of the country’s most important enterprises. The per-capita product was 114 692 pesos, when the country’s average was 63 466. 33 percent of the national budget was absorbed by the DF (González 1985: 174, 175). Since the 60's Mexico City is considered “a problem” (Bustamante and Delgadillo 1985: 78). To resolve it, decentralization was the government’s password. More than 50 different projects became elaborated (Martínez Asiz in Excélsior 19851001: 16). The culmination of the projects was the National Development Plan 1983-1988 with the main goal of inducing regional development to stop the exodus from the countryside, not only to Mexico City but also to the large towns of Guadalajara and Monterrey, where growth was exorbitant too (Bassols 1985: 70). In spite of plans, programs and authorities, neither “the regional and cultural disparities in the country /nor/ the multicited problems” of Mexico City have been reduced (Bustamante and Delgadillo 1985: 81). Furthermore, plans do not work because of economic weakness (Alvarez 1987). The reconstruction after the earthquakes was used as a new opportunity to put decentralization planning into practice. The ecological degradation is a serious problem. The following facts reflect the situation around the year of the tremors. Daily, 5 670 000 tons of contaminating stuff were produced, 75 percent of it by 2 500 000 cars (in

1985). Industrial waste matters were “thrown away in the environment without any previous treatment to avoid higher production costs.” (Carabías and Herrera 1986: 57ff). The city’s government collected 75 percent of the produced domestic trash, but 90 percent of this ended in outdoor deposits (idem). Shortage of green areas could be extreme. World Health Organization recommends 9 sq m of green per inhabitant, but this ratio is 2,4 sq m in Mexico City. In downtown Mexico, Cuauhtémoc, green areas amount to a mere 0, 27 sq m per inhabitant (idem). 3 000 000 manhours per day are lost in traffic clogs; 60 to 70 percent of all families are excluded from the formal market of real estate and dwellings; half of the families have unsatisfactory housing conditions; 40 percent of the working population are considered underemployed or unemployed. Seen against this background normality and catastrophe became partially coincident categories.The border between the state of normality and the state of disaster is blurry. (Camarena 1986b: 251). “/The earthquake/ added some dramatic shades to /preexistent/ structural questions” (Ibarra et al. 1986: 175). The uncontrolled urban growth /has/ increased the risk of accidents and breaks, because of both the large concentrations of population and the presence, inclusively in the very heart of the city, of highly dangerous installations as petrol refineries, plants for processing and distribution of gas, the airport, etcetera. These services were in the beginning located at the periphery, but their own function and the urban growth had enclosed them inside the town. All that caused an enormous deterioration in the quality of life of the population.(Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 290)

Actually, even before the earthquakes... /...the/ inhabitants of the capital had the perpetual sensation of living in danger, at the edge of disaster within a degraded environment; with a majority of impoverished population and high unemployment rates; with serious housing shortage, chaos in the streets, saturated and nearly collapsed services. (Excélsior 19851011)

In the words of an observer: The extreme vulnerability of Mexico City before earthquakes and all kinds of calamities does not depend on heavenly rage but on the way the Mexican society, as a whole, has lived in last decades and also on the mirages of an undefined modernity in which the primitive and the decadent are grotesquely combined (Peña 1986: 328).

Societal Contexts What one believed was “chaos”, a fruit of the irrecoverable Latin temperament was not but the ironic name of capitalistic voracity Monsiváis 1987: 43

Earthquakes are sudden, violent, spectacular and terrifying but, as most risks, not unexpected. It could be discussed if they are predictable or not, but their recurrence and specificity are beyond any doubt. Vulnerability depends of course on having knowledge about risks, but even more upon the previous societal context, the existing preparedness and the kind of relationship between nature and culture in the disaster.prone place. After several decades of uncontrolled urban growth and the level of vulnerability in Mexico City have to be considered high or very high. This chapter considers how the disaster revealed failures in both pre-disaster planning and in general disaster preparedness and prevention. A culture of risk

In November 1984, a liquid gas processing plant in the northern part of Mexico City exploded. Hundreds of people died, 2 000 were injured, and many thousands lost their homes. This terrifying event —known as the San Juanico disasterówas an alarm clock for the community and then a public discussion about risk, vulnerability and preparedness started. In spite of it, and of a long history of disasters, the difficulties in coping with the earthquakes made evident the lack of a general culture of risk among both the citizens and the authorities. This did not depend upon lack of knowledge. The seismic particularities of the Valley are well known. Some geological faults cause strong earthquakes periodically affecting Mexico City, and major tremors have recurrence times of several decades: 27 to 117 years for quakes of with an amount of liberated energy of M=8 (or more) in the subduction gap in the Pacific Ocean; and of 33+/-8 years for quakes of M=7,5 (or more) in the Central American trench (Nava 1987: 108). To state indexes of recurrence it is necessary to record quakes and of course, there are very few records before 1910, when the Seismologic Service was founded. Colonial writings, records and bulletins from past centuries named however many tremors (Nava 1987: 108). So far as one hundred years after the foundation of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, an earthquake

in the Valley is mentioned in old chronicles (Manzanilla 1986: 265). Geologist Alejandro Nava explained the concepts seismic risk and seismic potential in this way: Seismic risk is the possibility of occurrence of disastrous earthquakes in a determined place and span of time; cultural factors are stressed here. The seismic potential is of geological art, and does not consider possible damages: Though the seismic potential danger is very high in Yakutat /Alaska/, the seismic risk is little since it is a region with relatively few inhabitants; on the other hand the seismic potential is not so high in Managua /Nicaragua/, because the earthquakes there are not so strong, but the amount of people living there, the proximity to geological faults and the kind of construction, composed a very large seismic risk. /The seismic risk in Mexico City varies/ very much from place to place: it is large in the Central Zone, built over lake sediments /and/ little in other zones, as Pedregal de San Angel, where generally good quality buildings settled on rock or on very wellcompacted sediments. (Nava 1987: 114) Downtown Mexico is an area of very high seismic risk, settled on a jelly mass of former lake bottom's sediments, semi dissecated and unstable. This ground has still a very high water content of around 90 percent in volume and 75 percent in weight (Flores et al. 1987: 783), and it starts to shake when tremors occur. This phenomenon is known as the Mexico City effect: /In/ 1957 —July 28 to be exact, centuries after the lake had been drainedó/the effect/ first became identified. /A quake damaged then the city but/ far less damage was sustained near Acapulco, the coastal location of the epicenter (Drabek 1989: 18). Then, the vibration of the strata from the former lake’s bottom was discovered, and this vibration worsened the effects of the tremors in 1979 and, especially, 1985. A similar phenomenon affects San Francisco. “Mexico City lies on the bed of an old lake, and mud and sand form the land at the edges of San Francisco Bay”. San Francisco suffered large damages in the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, due to the liquefaction of the soft ground. Furthermore, a “greater shaking on softer sediments /played/ its part in one of the most serious collapses, at the Cypress Street Viaduct ” (Spall 1990: 59, 61). The question was not ignored, but the consequences of this knowledge were not implemented, not integrated to a culture of risks.During the 70’s Mexican researchers had studied this phenomenon but their findings were not publicly known. Nevertheless, the Prevention and Assistance Plan for Urban Emergencies in the Federal District, drafted in 1981 by a General Direction within SAHOP ), regarded these findings. The plan stated that 7

000 000 people inhabited high risk zones, especially in downtown, and security programs addressed to them were necessary (CIASES in Excélsior 19851018: lC). 120 000 buildings had highly vulnerable materials, they were deteriorated, were dangerous in the case of a strong earthquake, and need urgent betterments. Nevertheless “the document that warned about danger was buried, the Direction disappeared, and the mentioned dwellings fell down in the /1985/ earthquake” (Lopez M and Verduzco 1986: 32). CIASES commented that authorities had both knowledge on the situation, and power to do something for changing it. Because of that, they bore responsibility in the disaster (In Excélsior 19851018: lC). Existing preparedness was most theoretical and at the level of abstractions. The Secretariat of Government supposedly had made similar practices, which could be joined to the above mentioned plan from SAHOP. What is more, the Mayor Aguirre Velázquez had received in 1983 another project from the Department of the DF and the National University (UNAM), namely the System for Protection and Recovery in Mexico City, that was developed under request of the former Mayor. In the project there were action plans to prevent and mitigate damages, to face emergencies, and, inclusively, a general recovery plan. The System seems to have been passed, and therefore it should have legal force. Still more, the project was so far as passed as decree, but in occasion of the quakes nobody knew it. Dynes and coresearchers commented that this unit, by them named as Civil Protection Service had conducted one earthquake drill in 1984, but it was very small, with few resources and have no bases to operate (Dynes et al 1990: 22). Another source however describes the establishment of this System in 1984, as a division of the Police and Traffic Secretariat, known as SIPROR ), an organization that... ...was designed to coordinate emergency response operations in the face of major disasters. But at the time of the 1985 earthquake, SIPROR was organizationally not yet prepared to assume such a role. In addition, as a new group it was not well recognized by other government agencies. Thus, at the time of the earthquake, the role of SIPROR was simply to keep an inventory of supplies such as the amount of water available for the fire department, the number of vehicles in use, the location of ambulances, etc. (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 120) Despite policies of prevention and mitigation, the plans had not been implemented because of administrative factors. “No one of these plans attained to overcome the barrier of political vagueness.” Clear definitions are necessary for assigning responsibilities when putting plans on work (Aguilar 1986: 103). In September 1985 the only emergency plan with possibilities to be implemented was the military Plan DN III. Civil

authorities have no workable general plans. The Institute of Jurisprudence Research (from UNAM) made an analysis of emergency laws in force when the quakes happened, and in it was stated that possible extraordinary measures had been foreseen, but only “through isolated dispositions, which regulated partial aspects of the question giving in a dispersed way different solutions according to the competence of different public authorities” (UNAM 1985: 142). According to the mass media and to what was asserted in the emergency Plan DN III, the Mexican Red Cross and other NGO had to coordinate their work with military authorities. This did not mean the existence of any complementary plans, or of practical preparedness for coordination. As the Red Cross itself stated, a complementary plan was “under preparation, /it/ was being tested, it was nearly a reality, but, unfortunately, it could not be institutionalized” (José Barroso Chávez and Juan Said from the Mexican Red Cross in Excélsior 19850927: 4). Under September 1985, a complementary plan would be tested in military maneuvers, said the same source. Transport Commandant Julio Martínez, also from the Mexican Red Cross, declared that the Plan DN III had indeed never been in function because the assignment of practical duties was only “under conversations”. Many changes of officers within the involved authorities had caused delays. The Department of the DF addressed “in April and May this year” (1985) directives about the participation of officials and private organizations in disasters. Martinez commented: It was after the tragedy in San Juanico when DDF’s authorities hastened to design an emergency plan /for the Metropolitan Zone/, and a census of human and material resources to face emergency /was/ very advanced. Inclusively, an emergency drill was programmed in the oil refinery at Azcapotzalco last July, but it was suspended by causes nobody explained. (Statements quoted in Musacchio 1986: 83, 84) So, even if plan DN III existed and was put in operation, Mexico did not have well-structured disaster preparedness. From the level of laws and dispositions to the level of practical implementation, disaster planning resulted dispersed and defective. Further, no single civil authority had skills and equipment enough to make a success with tasks of coordination, and to command public and private responses. Bylaws to regulate concrete management issues were “precarious and insufficient”, despite the frame of the law contempled immediate responses (UNAM 1985: 144). These facts were what some called the lack of a culture of risk, not only among the citizens but... ...among the emergency and security corps in particular. /It consists on/ the whole of necessary knowledge and training to adopt in a quick and

effective way adequate attitudes, actions and measures to cope with /earthquakes/. (UNAM 1985: 177 ff.) Fernando Césarman, a founder of the Grupo de Los 100 ) declared after the earthquakes: “It must be admitted that security plans do not exist in Mexico.” He wondered if any plans for emergency supplies of food or water really existed at all (Excélsior 19851004). Knowledge on risks and vulnerability existed among officials, but the citizens were not aware of their existence. The information had not been disseminated. Even if information had reached the public, mere knowledge in itself does not work when a disaster happens. “The great lesson of the /1985/ earthquake was that neither the State nor civil society had understood and assumed this reality.” (Excélsior 19851011: 25). There was likely to be some organizational weaknesses among the officials who usually manage the first response to disasters, as police and firemen. For example, the whole DF —then around 12 000 000 inhabitantsóhad in 1985 only 718 firemen (Musacchio 1986: 16; Monsivais 1987: 52). When the San Juanico disaster 250 men took part in the fire fighting within a well-delimited damaged zone of relatively little extent (Arturson and Brandsjö 1986: 5). Since the mass media informed that the 1985 earthquakes caused 300 fires in the central city, 718 firemen were scarcely a high number to fight them. They also have to take care of rescues, and all this happened in a situation of extended damages, chaos, lacking water and with blocked streets. By comparison, the Swedish city of Gothenburg with about 430 000 inhabitants, had in 1990 617 rescuers and firemen, of which 117 were part-time employees (Göteborg Posten 19900528: 5). Ardekani and Hobeika made a comparison with the conditions in London, where there are 76 fire stations with 8000 firemen. They sustained that Mexico City counted with 7 fire stations and 800 firefighters operating 125 fire engines, and after the quake, despite the scarce resources /the/ Mexico City fire brigade was forced to engage in activities as diverse as removing crushed walls, quenching fires, preventing gas leakages, and supplying water to medical facilities. Within the first 24-hour period after the quake, the fire brigade responded to 193 cases of fire and 236 cases of gas leakage. In the 3 days after the quake, 351 cases of fire were reported (1988: 118 ff.)

They also pointed that the number of emergency vehicles was insufficient, and had to operate under highly uncertain conditions. Further, communications and coordination among emergency response agencies were often disrupted. Nevertheless, public opinion was very favorable to the Mexican firemen: 87 percent of the capital’s inhabitants affirmed in a survey that the Fire Department was “viewed as being very organized”

(Drabek 1989 20). Multiple testimonies told about the firemen’s hard and positive undertakings during the rescues. The existent culture of risks in Mexico City showed two kinds of weaknesses: the existing plans have not included clear directives to be put into action, and the usual coping mechanisms in charge of, for example, firemen, may be were underdimensionated for the necessities. Defective or non existing cultural preparedness in the form of drills, education or information campaigns, restricted the possibilities of coping with disasters. When the quakes happened, the first response come from unskilled and untrained volunteers. In words of Dynes and his coresearchers: In sum, prior to the 1985 earthquake the situation in Mexico City could be described as one of extreme organizational complexity, a relatively decentralized metropolitan government, and limited national and very limited disaster planning at the metropolitan level (Dynes et al, 1990: 22)

Public health

Another important part in preparedness is the role played by public health authorities. Different authorities are responsible for medical care in Mexico, besides the private medical system. The National Insurance Institute (IMSS) is a mighty institution within the system of social insurances. IMSS takes care of legally assured workers and employees, or particularly assured people outside the labour market. Another organization, ISSSTE, is in charge of the assured state workers and employees (Novelo 1987: 19). So, social security care is supported by government, employees, and employers, or by government and employees. Welfare care is provided by the government and the Secretariat of Health (SSA) runs hospitals for people outside the nets of insurance. Even other local authorities can be in charge of medical assistance. In Mexico City the SSA and the DDF provide care services in 24 hospitals and emergency units. During the emergency the three systems —social security, private and welfareómade no difference among the status of the victims (SánchezCarrillo 1989: 483). Health officials launched vaccination campaigns and gave practical advise about drinking water, ie, in general terms, they stressed their usual undertakings. Other tasks, as to record victims and survivors, were not satisfactorily achieved, stated many observers. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, from the Organization of American States) backed the authorities through statements of Medicine Doctor Jose Luis Zeballos, who stated that together with PAHO, Mexican health authorities “/had/

been developing activities in the area of disaster preparedness, which allow us to categorically pronounce that the Health sector of course reckoned with a plan for disasters” (quoted in Rodríguez 1986: 35). After the quakes, the media repeated general sanitation principles. The members of rescue teams and the homeless in shelters were vaccinated. Soon the military started to fumigate the debris to prevent diseases from corrupted corpses (Excélsior 19850926: 5A; 19850930: l9A). Radio, television and newspapers recommended to boil all water. Nevertheless “the public opinion perfectly knows there had never been any /disaster/ training” addressed to all the citizens, as for example how to cope with evacuations, gas leaks, potabilization of water, management of food or of faeces (Rodríguez 1987: 40). Other measures revealed bad management. The poorest neighborhoods at the edge of the town were chosen as disposal places for many thousand cubic meter debris, with unsanitary consequences. With the quake, the normally unsatisfactory collect of domestic trashes and industrial waste matters became at once worsened (Rodríguez 1987: 40 ff.). Specific regulations about public services under emergency conditions did not exist, and in case some plans had existed, no authority implemented them. Any mechanisms for public participation fitting conceivable disaster plans had never been foreseen either (UNAM 1985: 144). Medical care was efficient. Observers from KAMEDO ) travelled to Mexico in 1984 to study the emergency after San Juanico. In their report they pointed that Medical studies /in Mexico/ encompass very extended knowledge about catastrophe medicine and practical traumatology. A good number of physicians with traumatological experience can therefore be quickly mobilized in the largest hospitals (Arturson and Brandsjö 1986: 26).

Hospitals had an extraordinarily high personnel density, and good facilities. For example, the wards can easily absorb an ocassional overload of patients by dividing the space. Major hospitals have catastrophe plans that in general work well. Medical attention takes care of patients, if possible with help from relatives (Arturson and Brandsjö 1986: 26, 27). Hospitals were comparatively well prepared to cope with disasters. For example, in 1983 the personnel achieved an evacuation drill in the National Medical Center. When the Center was ravaged by the quakes and had to be evacuated, there were some experienced personnel. The nurses led the undertaking and not a single patient died in this operation (Poniatowska 1988: 186). All this preparedness was put in evidence during the emergency. Despite all possible criticisms, Zeballos considered the

response of health authorities was suitable according to the circumstances Taking into account the magnitude of the problem, the lack of communications, the temporary cut in electricity, gas leaks with sporadic fires and other difficulties that adversely affected the possibility of any kind of more organized action, the response of the health sector in providing medical care during the emergency was appropriate and in keeping with the general guidelines for care in disaster situations (Zeballos 1986: 144).

There was of course much confusion at first, but more than 500 ambulances and 100 hospitals in the DF were mobilized to handle somewhat 4 000 patients, 90 percent of them were attended to during the first day. The handling of corpses were carried according to minimum criteria for identification and “was properly performed from the moment of discovery through final disposal.” Several measures for epidemiological surveillance and information campaigns attempted to stress the importance of boiling water for consumption, hygiene in the handling of food and personal hygiene. Later, a mental health program was established “with participation from the main psychiatry, psychology and sociology institutions.” (Zeballos 1986: 144). Building regulations Antiseismic building regulations in Mexico were a consequence of repeated earthquakes. Regulations from 1942 have their origin in the yet fast urban growth and the serious difficulties to build groundworks for taller buildings in the soft soil. Under 15 years the tremors experienced in the city attained moderate intensity and the existent regulations inspired confidence. But new constructive technologies, as in curtain-wall buildings, showed scarce capacity to resist stronger tremors. The 1957 quake put in evidence the necessity of adjustments and one month after the disaster the DDF enacted new building directives. UNAM opened in 1957 a research field on urban emergencies (Poniatowska 1988: 63), and the subject gained during the 50's and 60's consideration in both private research and in the university. Research findings were integrated to the new ordinances. These regulations were grounded on the analysis of both the damages and the subsoil, on foreign regulations, as the ones in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and on research findings. The regulations were considered advanced for those days. They divided the city in soil zones, with special building requirements. Both antiseismic architecture and knowledge about the subsoil became improved after new tremors in 1966 and 1976 (Rosenblueth 1988: 268ff). Since 1976 the ordinances encompassed technological principles about building safety, which gained international recognition (Poniatowska 1988: 63). Regulations in force in 1985 were considered similar to the commonly

accepted international norms, being at least as rigid as any in the United States (Newsweek 19850930: 9). Three soil zones had been determined in Mexico City, and different building principles regulated them. The hill zone with rocky soil, the lake zone with soft clay soil, and a third one of transitional type. These zones were mapped, and constructors have to design the new buildings according to the type of the soil. In 1985 “/the/ greatest damage was suffered by buildings set on the old lake’s alluvial deposits, /not/ by the ones built on rocky soils.” (Gutiérrez 1989: 75). Rosenblueth sustained that due to pressing situations and rather narrow views, the planners blinked away the seismic history of the DF and did not foresee larger quakes, especially as the 1985 quakes were (Rosenblueth 1988: 268). The tremors were very strong and they surpassed everything one could imagine for an earthquake of such a magnitude (UNAM 1985: 25), and more than 12 000 buildings suffered damages. Despite Mexico City's building regulations with explicit antiseismic dispositions since 1942 there were a surprisingly high number of collapses (see under Damages in buildings). This fact created extended suspicions about the observation of law. “A frequent question following the disaster was whether some constructors managed to escape regulations, either through law enforcement or else paying bribes” (Newsweek 19851030: 10). Mexico City’s building regulations became improved after the catastrophe. Since 1987 there is a new bylaw about antiseismic buildings elaborated by the Department of the DF, the university and other authorities. Rosenblueth thinks this is a “magnificent document” with two sorts of norms: easily modifiable norms and more permanent ones. This flexibility allows the authorities to include in the law new research findings or outcomes of experience. The new bylaw contemplated a 60 percent probability of a large quake within a 30-years time span (Rosenblueth 1988: 273 ff).

The Plan DN III

This plan had been used since 1966 to face disasters in rural areas, like floods or volcanic eruptions (Macías 1987 113). Complete name was Plan DN III E to Aid the Civilian Population in Case of Disaster of National Range (Macías 1987: 105). Its goal was to avoid chaos in emergencies, because chaos “reduces the presence and deteriorates the image” of authorities. It is deducible that besides the defence of this image there was “an intention to improve the efficacy of response measures” (Macías 1987: 114). This plan engaged the army and the air force. Another plan, the Assistance and Rescue Plan SMA-85 —named in other sources as SM

IIIóexisted too, and was in charge of the navy. In spite of lacking complementary information about its goals, statements of the Secretary of Navy are likely to indicate that the two plans were in broad terms similar (UnoMásUno 19851005: 4). Plan DN III comprises three steps. In the first step, the population and the existing infrastructural facilities in disaster-prone areas must be recorded in a census. Eventual evacuation and security plans ought to be contemplated too, and disposed in advance. At the moment of the emergency, the second step, such tasks as rescues, mass feeding and medical care must be fulfilled, besides protecting properties. The main purpose is the return to normality. After the disaster, in the third and last step, military forces will attempt to recover infrastructure and roads, to resettle the inhabitants and to supply basic necessities until reaching normalization of activities in the damaged areas (Macías 1987: 115, 116). A Central Assistance Group headed by the President, led operations. Military and civil authorities care about tasks at local level (Aguilar 1986: 105, 106). The figure below illustrates the plan’s organizational diagram.

Table 3.1: Operative authorities within Plan DN III. (According to Macías 1987: 115ff )

Central Assistance Group NATIONAL EMERGENCY (countrywide) Supreme President (Mexico’s President) Substitute President (Secretary of Government) Executive President (Secretary of Defense)

Zone Group OPERATIONAL LEVEL (Military zone) Honorary President (State Governor) Executive President (Military Commandant)

ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS (battalion or regiment) Honorary President (Municipal President) Executive President and Sector Chief (Military Commandant)

ORGANIZATIONAL ARRANGEMENTS PREPAREDNESS: Organization of a warning net; fulfillment of a census on population, available shelters and hospitals in disaster-prone areas; evacuation; protection. RESPONSE: Rescues; mass feeding and sanitary care in shelters or in isolated areas; protection of public and private properties both in evacuated areas and in shelters. EMERGENCY: Sanitary measures; clearing and reconstruction of roads; rehabilitation of public services; resettlement of the population; supply of necessities and medical care until normalization.

Plan DN III could have been adopted as a national emergency plan, but it was not, because its concretion implies that military authorities take commandment over the civil ones and this fact is politically difficult to accept (Aguilar 1986: 105ff). In former disasters, the emergency zones had not the same political weight as Mexico City has and the military take over gained only local importance. When the disaster zone was the country's capital the political magnitude became completely different. However, no other plan was available and when Plan DN III started to rule its mechanism caused a big political headache solved through a noteworthy institutional procedure that will be commented later. Economic vulnerability The situation also has to be seen in the context of an earthquake hitting a country with a 97 billion dollars (US) foreign debt and whose oil prices had fallen within a relatively short period of time from 24 to 15 dollars a barrel. Dynes et al, 1990: 17

As 0’Riordan (1986), Geipel (1987) and Dory (1985) pointed out, legitimacy crisis, political conflicts and expressions of dissatisfaction are unavoidable in the context of disasters. Dory (1985) added to this assert on that the part played by economic weakness —and in some cases by “underdevelopment”óin worsening the situation. Mexico went 1985 through a period of increased economic difficulties, social controversies and lowered living standards, which conditioned the general capacity to cope with a disaster, increased vulnerability and limited the possibilities of recovery. A deep economic recession had been prevailing in Mexico at least since 1982. Public investments were in withdrawal and internal and international economic adjustments had attained a relatively reduced rhythm of inflation, but brought high social costs. Real salaries fell down, and unemployment rose (Calzada and González 1986: 255). At the end of the 60’s a project of national development started, grounded on the incomes from oil sales. This project, mostly by international pressures, failed under the 70’s. Development ceased and the relations between State and capital changed. Within the frame of the world crisis and, especially, of the financial crisis in Latin America, the Mexican economy became transnationalized. The

government adopted austerity programs according to the outlines of the International Monetary Fund (Alvarez 1987). The crisis caused “strong tendencies to proletarization, /global/ decline of living and working conditions, /undisputed/ rise of large monopolies”, and this aggravated an already developing legitimacy crisis (Alvarez 1987: 12). Public expenditures, 35 percent of the gross national product (GNP) in 1981, were expected to attain only the 24,9 percent of 1986. Plans for 1987 announced a budget reduction of 0,5 percent in the GNP, though the GNP was also expected to be lower (Alvarez 1987: 9). Savings in public investments were 1900 million dollars in the middle of 1985 and these savings had been accomplished with “great ostentation of closing public offices and dismissing personnel” (Huerta 1985: 38). The fact that economic policies were “decided and imposed by the International Monetary Fund /what is/ denied in the official declarations” (Galindo 1985: 43), expressed for many observers the deepening of dependency. The cost of living rose swiftly, and the participation of wages in the national income was diminished, while the incomes of capital gained larger portions. Real salary in 1985 attained only to 52,6 percent of the real salary for 1982 (Del Valle 1985: 114, 115). This drastical cut to a half of the worker's purchase capacity occurred in a very short time-span and brought about social instability. At the same time, wealth was clearly transferred to the economically strongest, as shown in Table 3.2. Table 3.2: Participation in national incomes, and inflation rates (According to Del Valle 1985: 114, 115; Alvarez 1987: 115, 116, 138)

Salaries Capital Inflation rate

1981 45.2% 54.6%

1982 45.4% 54.6%


37.2% 62.8%

1984 34.4% 62.8%




34.6% 65.4%

Positive trends in betterment of living standard among the poorest have been noted in the first part of the 80’s, but those trends suffered a breakdown with the crisis. Relative betterments in incomes and basic services had occurred between 1970 and 1980 through the development of dwelling construction at grassroots level, the self organization of urban services and, as a consequence, through a consolidation of the community in poor neighborhoods. Nevertheless, since the beginning of the 80’s, all those processes could not be continued. This coined the background for reconstruction after the quake (Schteingart and Lezama 1986: 29).

Within this critical context, the quakes caused several thousand million dollars in losses. Both people and government sought the quickest, most immediate solutions to the critical problems even aggravated by the quakes. To regard the reduction of future risks was not taken into consideration (Di Pardo 1987: 1, 2). “Strong hike in unemployment, diminished selfconstruction and /troubles to attain/ betterments in housing standards” and also less possibilities to take cheap loans from public housing funds, conditioned in great deal the recovery (Schteingart and Lezama 1986: 29). In sum, previous economic trends and inequalities shaded both the aftermath and the reconstruction policy. After the earthquake the extremely grave social tensions that existed in the capital were significantly accentuated by the great economic and social inequality among the inhabitants, where the most destitute and the groups with the lowest incomes were in general harmed the most. The earthquake sharpened the problems of a city that already suffered great deficiencies. (Gutiérrez 1989: 74) Mexico, like all countries in Latin America, has taken loans to obtain capital. In the name of development, the capital was used “to cover deficits in the balance of payments /and to bring over/ credit resources“ and “to guarantee purchases” to the sectors of interest from the point of view of the dominant economic groups. In the same way, such resources were also used to build infrastructure, which partially benefitted the same groups. In this way, land prices arose and new resources become available and could be exploited (García et al. 1987: 139). The Mexican foreign debt, when the tremors occurred, was one of the largest in the world. Nevertheless, to speak about a Mexican debt is an abstraction. The portion of total household income held by the richest 20 percent and the poorest 20 percent of the inhabitants was in 1989 appraised at 58 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Corresponding figures were in the US 40 percent and 5 percent, and in Japan 38 percent and 9 percent. The extreme distribution of wealth in Mexico was aggravated by an ongoing “dollarization” of the economy, especially after the earthquakes, loudly denounced in the Mexican media but part of a more general phenomenon. In the US alone, Latin Americans have invested an estimated $326 billion, more than Brazil, Argentina and Mexico owe their foreign creditors (Time 19891106: 39) In 1985 the total debt rose to 97 000 million dollars (M$) (Newsweek 19850930: 11), and its yearly payments were in 1984 11 856 M$ in interests and 1 691 M$ in amortizations. 80 percent of all Mexican incomes

from oil sales passed to international banks, especially from the US (Galindo 1985: 43). Besides the costs for amortization, a policy of open border caused an even more extraordinary flow of capital to abroad. This led to lesser reserves, shortage of capital, and in consequence to new loans and deepened crisis. The day before the first earthquake the news media informed on freeze credits from the International Monetary Fund, because Mexico had not fulfilled some payments. Lower oil prices made the debt costs higher, and Mexico was in trouble (Galindo 1985).A succesfull renegotiation of the debt payments made Mexico an exemplar borrower, but to face the extended earthquake damages for several billions dollar, and the necessities of reconstruction, the country was likely to choose between a moratory or taking new loans. Mexico chose the second way. In the context of the disaster situation, the debt gained clear political importance in the public debate. Based on a first, very low appraisal of damages, José Carral, from the Bank of America, stated that so small economic losses would not be a hindrance to new debt payments, Mexico had to keep paying and a moratory was censurable (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 269). The economist Carlos Avalo alleged that the debt causes two earthquakes yearly, because the appraised losses have been 6000 M$ while the yearly interest payments were in 1985 12 000 M$ (Musacchio 1986: 120). The newspaper El Siglo, from Torre"n City, commented that the cheque for 1 000 000 dollars Nancy Reagan brought for the victims had been better to give it back to her. Under the time it took her for signing it, the foreign debt grew 12 000 000 dollars in interests (Poniatowska 1988: 103). Anyhow, new loans were taken for reconstruction. In the context of the recovery, many political parties and organizations claimed for a moratory of payments to address the money to the necessary reconstruction. An original appliance of assistance money to reduce the debt was the agreement between the Mexican and the American Red Cross societies: “a debt swap arrangement whereby a portion ($1 million) of the disaster assistance monies were doubled.” That is, the Mexican government was able to use funds supplied by the American Red Cross to the Mexican Red Cross to reduce its external debt to the Security Pacific bank by about two millions US dollars. In turn, the government deposited an equivalent amount in mexican pesos for the Mexican Red Cross in a treasury account (Drabek 1989: 36).

The fund and the earned incremental amount were used for different projects, which Drabek considers with relevance to many debt ridden nations, and something that the Red Cross could include in future relief operations.

4. The Disaster Process

This chapter presents the analysis of both the trigger event and the general consequences of its impact. Facts are of two different kinds: seismological features on one hand, and on the other hand the societal losses the quakes caused, for example in lives or in capital stock or infrastructure. To present the first mentioned is less problematic, but the way to reckon human and economic losses is in general terms not clearly established. Criteria differ, most concerning economic appraisals. Data is ordered according to the date of publication. Main tables record human losses, damaged buildings, homeless and appraisals of economic losses. Dispersed records about lost employment and wages were impossible to tabulate. Contradictions among sources, and between two statements from the same source, are evident. In the disaster context the problems of communication and information were many. The role of the media is also discussed.

The Disaster Event The people of the sun, the Aztecs, believed according to their religion that life on earth had disappeared four times before, when the sun had gone down. /The/ fifth, which is to end the period in which we are living today, is prophesied to take the form of an earthquake. Gutiérrez 1989: 72

General information about earthquakes as natural phenomena is easily available, and I will only comment here what gains relevance to understand the disaster in Mexico. However, the most common terms mean. •Epicenter is the place in the earth's surface above the hypocenter or focus, the spot in the earth's mass where the quake really happens due to movements in the earth's crust, when the tectonic plates collide with each other. •The zone of contact between plates is a geologic fault, trench or gap, and the spot where a plate rides over another is a subduction zone. •Time of origin is the instant when the movement starts.

•A quake lasts for a varied time, which is measured as duration of rupture, when the plates move against each other. •The duration of propagation is the longer time while the liberated energy — seismic wavesómoves the ground. •The magnitude is not a direct measurement of liberated energy but of the energy waves’ frequency as this is recorded by seismographs on a logarithmic scale.

Table 4.1 presents some seismological indicators for the studied tremors. Table 4.1: Seismological features of the September tremors

Experienced Duration of rupture Duration of propagation Epicenter Hypocenter Intensity in Mexico City Magnitude Velocity of propagation Time of origin

Quake Sept 19 + 4 min (6) 61 sec (3) + 120 sec (4) 17.6 N - 102.5 W (1) 33 km (5) VIII - IX (1) 8.1(1) 3.3 km/sec (5) 07: 17. 48,5 (1)

Quake Sept 20 + 1 min (6) 115 sec (3) 190 sec (4) 17.4 N - 102 W (2) VI (2) 7.3 (2) 19: 38 (2)

Sources: •(1) UNAM 1985: 19 and 20 •(2) UNAM 1985: 27 •(3) Nava 1987: 37 •(4) Terremotos 1986: 505 •(5) Díaz 1986: 305 •(6) Dufka 1988: 162

The referred scale shows Richter surface waves magnitude, M. From this value the real amount of liberated energy could be calculated using several possible formulas (Nava 1987: 102ff.). Since the magnitude is measured on a logarithmic scale, the liberated energy when a high magnitude tremor occurs, is many times the energy liberated by a minor quake. Many small tremors are not enough as “safety valve” for the accumulated energy and in seismic zones large quakes had anyhow to occur (Nava 1987: 105). Even if the worst damages occurred in Mexico City, many other places were affected too. Buildings trembled in Boston, and in Hawaii the possibility of a tsunami was feared (Riva Palacio 1986: 30). Lázaro Cárdenas City, near the epicenter, must face a disaster with many ruined buildings and victims. Damages occurred in the states of Colima, Guerrero, México, Michoacán, Morelos, and in parts of Veracruz and Jalisco too. See Map 4.1-

Map 4.1: The zone affected by the tremors

Movements were felt from Texas to Guatemala, and originated tsunamis in the Pacific coast (Person 1986: 172). In Ciudad Guzmán, state of Jalisco, 45 percent of all dwellings suffered damages, with collapses in half of the cases (Macías 1987: 113). An estimated area of 800 000 sq km, extended from coast to coast, was directly affected by the seismic wave (Zeballos 1986: 141). The September earthquakes earthquakes occurred when two plates of the earth crust under the Pacific Ocean, the Cocos and the North American, moved against each other. The Cocos plate rides 6,4 cm a year over the North American, and the contact zone between them is known as the Michoacán fault. fau Here several major earthquakes in this century have occurred, among others in 1957 and 1979, which damaged Mexico City. A unique seismological feature of the September 19 earthquake, compared with other Cocos subduction earthquakes in the last fifty or so years, is that it consisted of two separate rupture events, each lasting about 16 seconds. The second event was initiated about 25 seconds. after the first and was located about 90 km. southeast of it. /...An/ interesting problem, not yet resolved, is whether this caused shaking of longer duration in Mexico City than would have occurred if the rupture process had been more or less continuous (Beck and Hall 1986: 593).

The Michoacán fault had a length of 200 km and a breadth of 80. Its dimensions are considered enormous. Nevertheless, there are many other larger faults. In Chile, 1960, the rupture had a length of 1000 km; in Alaska, 1964, the fault measured 650 km. To consider the dimensions of different faults allows other possibilities to compare quakes, perhaps in an easier way than “an esoteric appraisal of magnitudes” as the usual way is (Suárez and Jiménez l987: 256). Normally, a single tremor is not enough to discharge all the energy generated by frictions in the fault, and it is followed by aftershocks: the materials have to move until reaching a new balance (UNAM 1985: l5ff). Within the week following the first quake, the Institute of Engineering (UNAM) recorded about 500 tremors (Musacchio 1986: 49) and the Institute of Seismology recorded 71 quakes of importance, some considerably large, until October 1 (Excelsior 19851001). A tremor of M=5 occurred on September 27 (Zeballos 1986: 141). All liberated energy is transmitted in the form of seismic waves. The impact of every wave of energy deforms every part of the ground in the focus zone. This shock moves the adjacent masses, which transmit the movement further: “the same process happens again until the whole earth's mass is deformed and all energy is free, as when we throw an object to the surface of the water.” (Nava 1987: 47 ff). The seismic waves made the ground to tremble, but local soil characteristics modify their effect. If the impulse passes from a hard ground to a more elastic one it could produce with the same amount of energy, waves of a larger magnitude (Nava 1987: 114). The clay soil in Mexico City, 400 km away from the epicenter, trembled stronger than the surrounding soil zones because of this phenomenon. Two seismographs placed 3 km away from each other, the one in the rock bed and the other in a place where the alluvial deposits were 500 meter thick, showed that the waves of the tremor were amplified 400 percent in the second case (Elstein and fernández 1988: 257) Another well known phenomenon, the resonance, contributed to damages too. All objects which receive energy vibrate, but each object has a peculiar way to do it, a mode to vibrate. This way is specific, and it is the outcome of a combination of modes. A bell or a tuning fork has a vibration mode composed by all the modes of the materials the object is made with. When the object gets energy its materials are excited in different ways, i e , in their specific modes. The typical mode of the whole object is a sum of those specific modes, and it gives the object its characteristic tune. The earth, the soil and the buildings on it, has own modes of vibration (Nava 1987: 66).

As known, the waves of energy have a determined rhythm, or period. The waves from the earthquake had “periods that were nearly the ones for the typical modes of the /former lake's/ sediments” which resulted in resonance. The sediments began to vibrate in their typical modes, augmented by the quake's waves. When this happened, the movement increased “as when we push a swing following the rhythm of the oscillations” (Nava 1987: 115). The jelly mass which the central zone of Mexico City is built on “moved 40 cm. each two seconds, a very slow movement for a quake”. Many seven- to-twenty-storey buildings collapsed because of their modes were in resonance “with the seismic waves of highest intensity” (Riva Palacio 1986: 29). Beck and Hall —among other sourcesóalso concluded that the resonance in the lake sediments and the long duration of the shaking were two major factors behind the severe damages (1986: 594). According to the type of ground and of the buildings constructed on it, damages result different. The inhabitants of two affected places could have two divergent experiences of the same quake. The particular observations are measured on a scale of intensity —i.e. of specific local observable effectsóoften the twelve-levels Modified Mercalli scale. An effect of VIII/IX, as the one measured in Mexico City, means among other destruction, serious damages and public panic. Otherwise, level VI means that everyone in the affected place felt the tremor, walking was difficult, fragile objects crushed and some weaker construction cracked (Nava 1987: 155 and 156). A quake has a specific magnitude, but so many intensities as the observers could record. The most spectacular consequence of the earthquakes was the partial destruction of the central core of Mexico City. Though serious damages, the spatial extent was not so large, some 40 sq km or 3.2 percent of the total area of the D F. Map 4.2 shows the disaster area in the DF. About 80 percent of all destroyed buildings were located in the central ward of Cuauhtémoc, whose surface is around 32 sq km with 815 000 inhabitants (Zeballos 1986: 141). Mexico City is so big that even though the earthquake was strongly felt everywhere most of the population carried on with their usual tasks and did not realize what was happening until several hours later. Although the ravaged area is small (23 sq km), the disaster was outstanding because it affected the most vital and densely populated areas in the city (Gutiérrez de Mc Gregor 1989: 75).

Map 4.2: Area of disaster in the Federal District (Adapted from Zeballos 1986: 143)

Human losses The number of the dead will yet be forever an enigma Monsiváis 1987: 68

The most dramatic feature of disasters is always the number of victims they cause, but in the confusion following large calamities to establish an accurate record of victims is not so easy. Records differ and are modified along time. What happened in Mexico is a good example of the difficulties in both bringing about satisfactory records and in disseminating correct information about victims. Even if a death toll of around 10 000 is generally accepted, many other estimates were made as the table below shows, and a public discussion about reliability of the official records started then in Mexico. The Secretariats of Defence and of Government informed about victims for the first time twelve hours after the quake. Next day, the President presented a new report on radio and television (Riva Palacio 1986: 35). The appraisals were very low, but during the following days the figures changed. The figures nevertheless showed surprising contradictions. Most evident is the absence of agreement between statements from DF's police: 6299 corpses were already recorded on September 20, but only 2822 two days later. Other statements, from the same source and date sustained that buried victims were 2000, but if we sum these 2000 to the mentioned 2822, the total of corpses would have been 4822, but not 6299. Nevertheless, the latter figure was published again on September 26, when the police took control of all official information.The same day officers from the DDF made different statements, for example September 2l, 22 and 25. Official declarations were questioned too about the gas explosion in San Juanico. The first day —it was saidó100 or 150 people died, but a week later the death toll was estimated to be 500, all from official sources. The neighbors appraised the number of the dead to 2000 (Monsiváis 1987: 134). According to an article by J. Mullen in The News 19861119: 1, the final official figure was “about 875” dead. International observers said there have been “about 600” dead (Arturson and Brandsjö 1986: 29). In the conflictive situation caused by the collapse of the Nuevo Leon block-offlats, the Secretariat of Settlements, SEDUE —owner of the building— recorded 166 dead. The survivors came to the conclusion that dead victims had actually been 472 (Esto pasó 1986: 120). The authorities explained evident contradictions as interpretative confusion. In some cases the number of recovered corpses had been taken as the total —or higheródeath toll. Raising distrust about official figures may depend upon such confusion. “Anyhow, some people interpreted the

difference as a manifestation of the governments' wish to diminish the tragedy, without explaining what could be the interest of the authorities /in doing so/� (Terremotos 1986: 519). Table 4.2 shows records from different sources with time. Most of figures belong to official records, and some contradictions could be explainable by the situation but other are quite obscure. More detailed facts in da Cruz 1991b.

Table 4.2: Estimation of human losses in Mexico City Date Source 0919 RAV 0920 DFD

Dead 373 1300

Buried Injured 1000 1000

Army 1000 Police 1500 S Health 4/6000 1000 Police 6229 2250 641 1641 1952

Police 0923 DFD

2822 2000 5202 + 3000 + 1500 + 8500

Police 0924 Official 0925 DFD Official

1840 4160

RAV 0926 Police 0927 Army 0929 CME

+ 4000 6299 3451 5500


EP 96 AI 150 EP 96 Pon 28

+ 10 000

0921 DFD RAV 0922 RAV DFD

2000 2000

Missing Rescued Reference AI 149 600 AI 150

6000 7803 9708

18 000 8296 + 1000 + 10 000 40 000


EP 99 Mu 34 AI 153 2000 1296 1500

Ex 0924 No 0924 Mu 45 EP 102


Te 519 Mu 26 Ex 0927 Ex 0930

+ 30 000 7000 45 000 35 000

AI 151 EP 98 Mu 29 EP 99 Mu 34

5600 3500

Abbreviations in sources: CME Metropolitan Emergency Commission DFD Department of the Federal District S. HealthSecretariat of Health RAV Ramón Aguirre Velázquez, head of the CME and Regente of the DF Abbreviations in references: AI Álvarez Icaza 1986 EP Esto Pasó en México 1986 Ex Newspaper Excélsior, M. City Mu Mussachio 1986 No Newspaper Novedades, M. City Pon Poniatowska 1988 Te Terremotos de setiembre 1986

The final official record was “about 10 000 dead” and more accurate data seems not to be available. This figure became The Truth to international publications and statistical records. CEPAL and other organizations accepted it, and US ambassador also appraised the dead to be 10 000. May be it was inferred from data published under the second week after the quake. On September 25 there were 4000 dead and 7000 missing probably already dead, ie 11 000 recorded victims. On September 29 the estimate of victims was 5500 dead and 3500 still missing; two days later the Mexican Red Cross and military authorities informed about 3451 dead and 5600 probably dead victims, which resulted in a death toll of around 9000. Perhaps these estimations were the grounds for official figures. However, Dufka estimated the dead in 20 000 and so did Beck and Hall; Monsiváis sustained the dead were over 15 000 but Person opined there were at least 9500; Zeballos reproduced a provisional official estimation of between 5000 and 10 000 dead, and Ardekani and Hobeika adverted that estimates varied widely from 4596 to over 20 000 people. Furthermore, Elstein and Fernández state the specific number of 4541 dead (1988: 259). Rodríguez (1987: 35) made following appraisal: according to the emergency managers, every person rescued alive corresponded to four to seven victims officially reported dead. On this ground, “the most timidly estimated figure” should be a death toll of between 16 000 and 28 000 people, since the total of rescued victims was 4096. Doubts and confusion because of contradictory records were shared by many researchers. For example, a team from the Disaster Research Center (USA) reviewed death toll estimations which varied from 4000 to 45 000, and conducted extensive interviews with government officials and victim families. Their compiled data suggested that... ...a total casualty figure of around 130 000 may be reasonable (with the great majority of the injuries being very minor; this is consistent with some reports that at least 53 000 persons were treated at more than 280 on-site stations and other facilities). Deaths probably did not constitute more than ten percent of the overall total. Published estimates and some official reports of the dead had given inconsistent figures /from 4 000 to 45 000/; the highest figures are almost certainly incorrect (Dynes et al 1990: 80) Another recent disaster, even if its context was quite different, gives us an opportunity for comparison. Figures about dead were also contradictory in the earthquake in Armenia, 1988. Two days after the quake, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter (DN) informed that there were tens of thousand dead (Dagens Nyheter 19881209: 8). One day after the dead were 100 000 according to unofficial sources (DN 19881210: 1), but 50 000 next day,

this time from official sources (DN 19881211: 1). USSR's Premier Ryzhkov stated the dead were 40 to 45 000 ; USSR's Health Minister Tjazov declared the dead had been nearly 60 000; USSR's Foreign Affairs spokesman Gerasimov said there had been 55 000 dead (DN 19881211: 11). Finally, the news agency Tass informed the official figure of 23 390 dead, perhaps some more still under the ruins (DN 19881219: 10). In two weeks the appraisals varied from 23 000 to 100 000 dead!

Damages in buildings

Criteria for classification, and who applies them, are both decisive to determine what a damaged building really is. Records in Mexico City are confusing, and terms as “properties” or “buildings” were sometimes used as synonymous. The real kind of damages is not always well defined in the records. As with the records of victims, appraisals about damages changed when the dimension of the disaster became better known. It took some weeks before different records approximately coincided. Flagrant differences appear in the appraisals of insurance companies and Regente Aguirre, on September 23 and 24: 7000 respectively 1237 “affected” (?) buildings. The highest figure is nearer the final account from DFD: 12 747 damaged buildings. One month after the first quake, CME and DFD had similar records: 5728 and 5754. Table 4.3 presents data on damaged buildings from different records.

Table 4.3: Records of damaged buildings Date

0919 0920 0921 0922 0923 0925 0926

0930 1019


Official DFD RAV Official InsCo RAV CME TV 7 Official RAV CME CME



Severely damaged



250 196 411 411



102 57


1300 1596 760 468 7000 1267 1132 2669 730 1267 3124 5728

Te 502 AI 151/Mu 26 Mu 29 Te 515 Mu 36 Te 519 TN 0926 Mu 50 Mu 56 Mu 57 Mu 99 AI 164


Mex 259

115 1404 415

1152 102



Abbreviations in sources: CME- Metropolitan Emergency Commission DFD- Department of the Federal District InsCo- Association of Insurance Companies in Mexico TV 7- Television news. Official RAV- Ramón Aguirre Velázquez, head of the CME and Regente of the DF Abbreviations in references: AI- Álvarez Icaza 1986 Mex- México, la ciudad más grande del mundo MU- Mussachio 1986 TN- Newspaper The News, Mexico City Te- Terremotos de setiembre 1986

Several months later, in January 1986, DFD in its Report on Damaged Buildings also recorded 5754 cases. Afterward the final sum of 12 747 was published: Probably the figure 5754 resulted from a Minimal Information program about the condition of all damaged buildings, prepared to be ready before December 4, 1985 (Ziccardi 1986: 138). The statements of President De La Madrid two days after the quake were surprisingly optimistic (Mussachio 1985: 29). In contrast a private consultory —Consultores Mexicanosóappraised the number of damaged buildings in nothing short than 75 000 (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 281). Suárez and Jiménez referred to a report by DF’s Secretariat of Public Works covering the

period uptill January 31, 1986. This report recorded 12 000 affected buildings, of which 5025 were damaged (1987: 160). Figure 4.1 shows two records of the use of ruined buildings.

Figure 4.1: Damaged buildings: function

Dynes and coresearchers coresearchers asserted that the buildings with some kind of damages were many more. Perhaps a quarter of all dwellings in Mexico City suffered in one way or another damages from the quakes, or at least interruption of services. This record means several hundred thousand thous residential structures with damages since there are more than two million buildings in the area. The authors asserted that several years after the quakes the lower appraisals still continue to be cited, because official reports usually did not include private buildings repaired by the owners without reporting it (Dynes et al 1990: 79). Official reports paid more attention to damages in public offices, industrial or commercial premises, hospitals and schools, but most ruined buildings —76 76 percentówere one-too four-storeys storeys high, and used for housing (Suárez and Jiménez 1987: 160). Figure 4.2 shows height in storeys of ruined buildings.

Figure 4.2: Damaged buildings: height in storeys (Adapted from Suárez /Jiménez 1987:160)

Tall buildings suffered especially by phenomena as resonance and settlements, while low buildings resulted in not being so affected. Upper stories in many tall buildings collapsed, but the lower portions remained entire. Hall and Beck (1986: 590) explained this phenomenon as design desi failures. Reduced thickness in the upper column was excessive to bear earthquake loads. Further, neighbour buildings of different height beat each other, which caused the break of the unmatched construction. On the contrary, the largest part of the one-to-four-storey one storey fallen buildings were very ill-maintained maintained old houses. Astonishingly, modern constructions failed in a larger extent than older ones, a circumstance that caused controversies. There appeared to be a negative correlation between age and damage. damage. None of the oldest buildings, pre Second World War, collapsed. The collapsed ones were mostly of concrete. “Some were steel and the steel buildings didn't fare any better than the concrete ones”, observed Hughes and Pappin (1986: 201). Hall and Beck underlined that

/from/ the engineering viewpoint, the most serious aspect of the damage is that over 300 high-rise buildings designed under modern seismic building codes either collapsed or were so severely damaged that they are beyond repair (1986: 593).

The researchers tried to comprehend the causes of those serious damages, and it is possible to differentiate two kinds of explanations. The physicalgeological and the societal ones. Engineers and geologists observed most physical causes, but for other people there were societal and cultural factors behind the ruined buildings. Among the natural scientists, Flores and coresearchers distinguish three remarkable features: First, a concentration of damage in the former lake bed; second, a peculiar distribution of high- and low-damage areas alternating within a few city blocks, and third, a selectivity for buildings between five and fifteen storeys high. While the last point is understood by civil engineers and the first confirms the relevance of the soft ground, the second feature is the most puzzling. To a physicist such a pattern evokes the idea of a standing wave, with low- and highdamage areas corresponding to nodes and antinodes. This suggest a resonance phenomenon of the waterlogged ground moving collectively (Flores et al. 1987: 783).

Resonance in the lake sediments and not engineering failures was to Beck and Hall the major factor of damages. The seismic waves entered the Valley of Mexico from the basement rock and propagated through layers of sediments. Then, the energy jumped up towards the surface. By this reason the former lake-bed was an area with large damages. Further, high-rise buildings have longer periods of vibration, like the lake-bed, and responded with resonance. The old colonial buildings and other low-rise buildings survived with little damage primarily because they have short fundamental periods and not because they are relatively stronger /...Theoretically/ buildings of about 15 to 25 storeys would have suffered the most severe damage /...but in fact the statistics show that the damage was concentrated in buildings with 6 to 15 stories. The explanation is that as a building yields and suffers damage to its nonstructural and structural components, its natural period lengthen. In effect, buildings with 6 to 15 stories were drawn into the most energetic frequency band of the lake-bed motions, whereas taller buildings moved out of this range as they became more flexible during the earthquake (Beck and Hall 1986: 595). The resonance was added to another destructive agent, the long duration, because “the ground motion had more time to build up to larger amplitudes by resonance with lake sediments� that worsened structural damages. Building codes grounded on empirical observations: before the quakes,

they were considered suitable. Resonance was known, but both the high degree of amplification and the long shaking resulted much larger than anticipated (Beck and Hall 1986: 596). Though norms suited, the respect for regulations was doubtful. An engineer commented that norms have the same level as those in every developed country, but lacked to follow them honestly. An inspector of damaged buildings, pointed that columns were not thick enough in some cases (Musacchio 1986: 104ff), a cause also pointed by other sources: In Mexico City, lack of strength was evident in the columns of many buildings, a violation of an important principle of seismic resistant design. /.../Flat-plate construction, consisting of reinforced concrete columns and slabs without beams, did not fare well in the earthquake. One type of failure mode was caused by inadequate shear strength in the slab-to-column connections which resulted in pancake failures of the slabs with the columns remaining upright in some cases (Hall and Beck 1986: 589)

Map 4.3 shows damaged zones and the former lake bed in Mexico City.

Map 4.3: Spatial location of damages (According to Beck and Hall 1985: 594 and GutiĂŠrrez de Mc Gregor 1989:76)

Most of damages occurred to superstructures, but failures in the foundations, were fewer. This probably depended upon too short foundation piles which do not reach the firm soil under the soft clay layer. The clay “may have slipped downward during the earthquake.” (Hall and Beck 1986: 590). Many settled buildings were not really destroyed, and even before the quakes there were “a lot of cases of buildings which were already badly settled which didn't appear to have moved at all in the earthquake.” Leaning was more of a problem than settlement (Hughes and Pappin 1986: 201) The physical context hade an essential part in causing the damage, and the effects of the quake in constructions became worsened by phenomena as resonance in the lake-bed or settlements and leant buildings due to the soft soil. Further, the seismological features of the quake resulted surprisingly serious. Cultural contexts contribute to damages through poor construction practices though there are existent building codes of regulation. The codes, and this is another component of the cultural context, are grounded on empirical trial and error procedures, and in them a so strong quake was not contemplated. Suspicions about law enforcement could have some motive, but those may be also considered as a token of deeper sociopolitical contradictions in the Mexican society aired in this way in the public debate following the quakes. Upper storeys of modern constructions toppling on neighbor buildings could be reasonably interpreted as the outcome of law enforcements, especially when older —and loweróstructures escaped damages, and paying bribes is part of the usual societal life. Though all explanations based upon the unusual strength of the tremors, the fact that so many modern buildings resulted in being ruined was in the public debate considered an outcome of bad construction practices. So, the Association for Defence of Consumers expressed that quality in most of the destroyed buildings was dramatically low, and that it depended upon corruption. “It is in any way casual that /them/ were built in the last 30 years. /Low/ quality is nowadays a genocide” (Excélsior 19851004). Corruption and lacking efficiency were causes of damages for Homero Aridjis, from the Group of The One Hundred. Juan Gurrola from the College of Architects alleged that there existed a very high possibility that many buildings were poorly constructed without suitable materials. Engineer Agustín Escobar sustained: “If building regulations had been accurately respected, 50 percent /of collapses/ could have been avoided” (Excélsior 19850927: 35A). Ilan Semo, a journalist, commented that the ravaged buildings were predestinated to fall and, as in Kafka’s novels, “the sentence looks after someone to be guilty /but such a guilt is/ as anonymous as the net of complicities that rules in the institutional labyrinth.”

(Excélsior 19850927: 5). In spite of regulations, safety in buildings depended on a great deal upon the constructors’ good will. Especially the suspiccions of corruption as cause of ravages pointed out official buildings. Architect Raul Ferrera expressed: “Perhaps it is necessary an inventory to check up whether it is statistically reasonable that 'fatality' was enraged against the government.” (Excélsior 19851030: 1ff). This was in some extent unfair: indeed, of 196 ruined properties with public offices, only 1,5 percent were owned by the State, and the rest rented (Ziccardi 1986: 138). Lacking maintenance caused damages too. For example, the tenants in the state-owned block of flats Nuevo Le"n struggled for years to get maintenance. Yet 1982 the building had been repaired and its foundations bettered in 1983, but with poor results. The tenants were aware of the risks in living there; they were well organized as a pressure group, and their case was known. The block collapsed, several hundred neighbors died, and the survivors qualified the attitude of responsible authorities as collective homicide (Monsiváis 1987: 56). Examples could be many more. Old houses downtown with frozen rents since 1940 did not produce benefits and therefore the house-owners did not care about maintenance. The buildings were in extremely bad shape (Bataillon and Riviére 1979: 106, 109). Divided and subdivided in very small apartments the houses lodged several thousand working class families. As predicted, a lot of them collapsed. Changes in the use of buildings often resulted in structural overloads and as a consequence in increased risk of collapses. Offices and dwellings had been used as premises for factories, workshops or stockrooms without adequate adaptation. 1236 workshops, most of them belonging to the clothing industry, resulted damaged (Monsiváis 1987: 66). Other sources told about 200 collapsed clothing workshops, and 500 more also damaged (Poniatowska 1988: 221). Bad conditions were well-known. “It was not casual that 90 percent of the buildings with sewing workshops or clothing factories slumped the day of the earthquake” (UnoMasUno 19851005: 8). Shortage of housing and high land and building costs brought into the construction of new dwellings on the roof of existing houses. Many buildings downtown had been modified in this way and their structures suffered overload. “In some old houses in the City, the inhabitants of the roof could be more than those in the rest of the building” (Boils 1986a: 51). This is not exclusively a feature of the old central quarters. In the modern

building complex of Tlatelolco, for example, several hundred families lived in rooms on the roofs, rooms not originally built for permanent housing. A sector of architects and engineers considered all those accusations unfair. Architect Fernando L"pez Carmona, in coincidence with government officials, asserted that l4 000 dead out of 14 000 000 people is 0.001 percent, and 140 slumped buildings in 1 400 000 resulted in the same ratio, and therefore the damages were not so serious at all (Musacchio 1986: 102). Doctor Daniel Reséndiz asserted that regulations in force gave enough protection. Only one in one thousand buildings resulted in ruin. For Doctor Resendiz regulations aimed to avoid “unnecessary safety expenditures.” (Musacchio 1986: 102). The homeless

A clear majority of the ruined buildings were dwellings and as a consequence several hundred thousand people became homeless. Since homelessness is a changing condition, and there are different “levels of homelessness” the records differ widely. The damages were very serious and more data is included in the next chapter. The following comments could give some idea of the housing problems set by the tremors. There were areas, such as the Morelos ward, where 80 percent of the houses were partly destroyed, or left with some damage. In most cases, there were blocks of buildings that housed between thirty and one hundred families. /...In/ the apartment building area of Tlatelolco, only fifty-nine of the 102 buildings are fit to live in. /...The/ associations of residents of this housing complex state that 3 283 families in the buildings and 480 tenants of the roof-top quarters were affected (Lopezllera 1986: 25)

The first official information on September 19 recorded 250 000 homeless (Terremotos 1986: 505), but one week later there were 300 000 (Esto pas" en México 1986: 102). CEPAL nevertheless considered them to be 100 000 (Álvarez Icaza 1986: 164), and a private consulter company estimated their number in 1 000 000 (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 281). Anyhow, between 10 and 13 000 people got place in privately arranged refuges, and some over 22 000 lodged in official shelters. Three weeks after the quakes 28 000 victims got Refugee cards, an identity document for people in shelters that allowed them to receive help in goods (Terremotos 1986: 542). When the Single Earthquake Refugees' Coordination (CUD) ) was founded on October 22, it supposedly represented 200 000 victims, most of them lacking dwellings. It must be noted that not all victims belonged to organizations. El Universal appraised in 400 000 the number of homeless on October 26, Monsiváis —quoting authoritiesósaid that there were 100

000 lost but reconstructed reconstructed homes (1987: 66), but CUD alleged that 40 000 families more had been left outside all reconstruction plans and in consequence 140 000 families would have lost their homes. Spokesmen from the government mantained that 500 000 people benefitted new homes (La Jornada 19870919). Total reconstruction achievements were about 95 000 dwellings and since the families accepted in programs had in average 4,6 members, a figure of around 450 000 to a half million homeless people make sense. If a higher number of 1355 000 affected families is considered —as CUD statedóhomeless would have been around 620 000. Dynes and coresearchers concluded that their findings suggested that as many as two million residents of the capital “at least temporarily moved out of their own homes.” (1990: 4). Besides the officially recorded 30 000 victims in shelters, 10 000 more camped in open places near their ruined dwellings or in parks, squares, etc, under improvised tents. According to a survey carried on by SEDUE among 7607 refugee families, families, 84 percent either moved to other families or continued in their dwellings. As usual in disasters the homeless recurred to own networks to resolve this problem. Figure 4.3 shows the outcome of the commented survey.

Figure 4.3: Relocation of homeless (According to Ziccardi 1986: 142)

In sum, the quakes caused a sudden shortage of around 100 000 dwellings, but its magnitude must be related to the context of normality. Housing in Mexico was defective yet before the quakes. The National Census from 1980 had recorded 1 747 107 dwellings in the DF of which more than 10 percent had 9 or more inhabitants. Slightly more than 50 percent of the total of dwellings —namely 857 170ówere mostly of two rooms (Boils 1986a: 49). The DDF appraised in 800 000 units the normal housing shortage in 1984 (Ziccardi 1986: 121). Overcrowded dwellings was a large problem too, and nearly half of the inhabitants of Mexico City were lacking about 2 100 000 rooms to resolve it (Méndez 1985: 107). Seen against this background, the 1985 quakes increased the already existing shortage in 11 percent (Rodríguez Velázquez 1986: 59). Another outcome of the quakes was the hike of the rents. After comparing rent advertisements from before and from after the earthquakes, Guillermo Boils concluded that it had been an evident impact, that resulted in 19 percent more expensive dwelling rents after the quakes. Nevertheless, these new rent hikes were inserted in the irreversible normal trend of rent hikes (Boils 1986b: 247). Employment and incomes

The spatial concentration of damages in the ward of Cuauhtémoc affected specially the Government. This ward is at a great extent part of the central business district —which also comprehends the ward of Miguel Hidalgo, to the westóand all activities in banks, shops, tourism, central mail offices and communications, suffered disturbances. Through Cuauhtémoc passes without interruption a considerable flow of vehicles to other zones of the city (Ziccardi 1986: 130ff). A breakdown here has extended effects not only for business, employments and all kinds of transportation, but for the economic life of the whole country. This was especially evident for carrying on official activities. The seats of the three State Powers are in Cuauhtémoc, and so do the main offices of the DDF, 13 State Secretariats, 79 parastate offices, 17 institutions of public administration, and several other key offices (Ziccardi 1986: 131). The total of ravaged public offices —within or outside Cuauhtémocówas estimated at 227, but this number changed later to 343. Another appraisal considered 1,7 sq km of office space lost, which meant 145 000 employees without place (Monsiváis 1987: 67). Other sources said this number was much higher, namely 185 000 (The News 19851015: 14). Domínguez and

Zepeda stated that among 100 000 and 150 000 workplaces resulted as being lost (1986: 268). The damage had also other serious consequences for the normal development of labor capabilities, beyond the ruined buildings. For example, files and documents became lost under the debris. In the collapsed Secretariat of Communications the rescue of the files was attempted, but experts stopped the undertaking because of evident danger (El Sol de Cuernavaca 19851002: 1ff). The Superior Court of Justice of the DF was severely damaged and to work there was impossible even though the fact that innumerable inquiries were expected because of the quakes and mostly about dwelling rents (Excélsior 19851001). In addition to other institutions as several police stations, hospitals, and several hundred schools, the most ruined governmental offices were the following: •Secretariats of Trade, Communications and Transports, Agrarian Reform, Work and Social Welfare, Government, Planning and Budget, Economics, Health, Navy •General Auditory of the Federal District •Federal Court of Justice •National Food Commission.

The National Reconstruction Commission appraised preliminarily the total or partial lost workplaces as 70 000 until December 1985, of which 40 000 were in industry and trade. In the central zone of the DF occurred 76 percent of these losses (Terremotos 1986: 559, 560). Blas Chumacero, leader of worker unions, mantained that 200 000 seamstresses had been left wageless since September l9 as an outcome of the quakes (Musacchio 1986: 98). The inner city is also the place where many thousand enterprises have their premises. Within the most critically affected zone there were 7500 small industries and workshops with 700 000 workers (Excélsior 19850926). More than 1200 of them resulted in being destroyed (Monsiváis 1987: 66). Hundreds of hotels, shops, theaters and cinemas were destroyed or badly damaged and therefore closed. Damaged banks and offices interrupted their activities for days or weeks to be relocated. The Secretariat of Trade suspended several services until further notice, and so did the police in the DF (Excélsior 19850930; 19851001). All records named deal with the formal employment sector, but the informal and the semiformal sectors are of fundamental weight in the economic life of Mexico City. Since their activities take place for the most in the streets, the ruined city core affected them severely. The wholesale market areas of Tepito and La Merced resulted destroyed to 70 percent and

hence hundreds of small stores and workshops, street shops and vendors, could not go on with their activities (Novedades 19850924: 22). Monsiváis (1987: 37) pointed out that half a million informal workers earn their incomes by selling services to the workers of the formal sector, and both categories are very numerous downtown. Devastation in the infrastructure for communications, water and electricity contributed to more difficulties in the central city. It is worth to underline here that for example the blockage of the telephone net cut off Mexico City from the rest of the country, and most of the traffic with abroad was interrupted too. Further, road transports —hauling and passengersógot in trouble too since many companies had offices or garages within the worst damaged zone (Camarena 1986a: 39ff). Traffic hindrances, more than 500 000 sq m of broken pavements, collapses, and rescue works everywhere, have negative effects too (Monsivais 1987: 67). Considering all those factors, the figure of 1 000 000 affected by partial or total losses of employment and incomes does not appear exaggerated. Indeed, those who suffered some kind of negative consequences were many more: “A survey completed about three weeks after the second quake /documented/ that over one half of the residents of Mexico City were directly affected with some sort of disruption or damage.”(Drabek 1989: 19) Other socioeconomic losses

Officially, the quakes caused direct economic losses for 3000 million dollars (M$) plus 700 M$ more due to lost expected exportations. To grasp the real dimension of this figure it is necessary to look after the economic context in the moment of the quakes. Attempting to do it, the economist Enrique González Tiburcio —and according to data from the Secretariat of Economicsóput these figures in relation to other indications: /3700 M$ is/ 2,7 percent of GNP for 1985, slightly more than 12 percent of the government's budget, 15,5 percent of the expected income for exportations under 1985, about 24 percent of the foreign debt's interests for 1985, and more than twice the budget for the Federal District (in Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 2 7)

Even if the losses were high, the Mexican economy was not crushed by the quakes. Anyhow, those figures were not the only ones, and to calculate losses ought to be seen only as a contribution “to identify the magnitude of the necessary reconstruction efforts” (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 209).

CEPAL ) appraised in 3590 M$ the direct losses and the indirect ones in 515 M$, a total sum of 4105 M$. Many kinds of specialized services —as in education or medical careóare located in Mexico City, but they have national range. This is another factor of indirect losses, and so does the payment of wages without productive work in return. Such factors were not included in this calculations of indirect losses. Even if the items were similar, the appraisals of SHCP ) about losses in housing were higher than CEPAL's but lower in public buildings. Other differences were, for example, CEPAL recorded an impact of boldly 82 M$ in lost incomes, but SHCP did not consider such losses, and the same thing occurred when considering incomes from foreign donors. Table 4.4 shows three different appraisals: the official one by the Secretariat of Economics, another estimation by CEPAL, and the calculations of the Association of Mexican Insurance Companies (AMIS) ) Table 4.4: Estimations of economic losses (According to Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 274, 278, 279, 280). In million dollars. SHCP













Other public buildings








Industrial and comercial equipment




Dwellings Schools

Medical and domestic equipment


Indirect losses



Other losses




——— ——— ——— Total of estimated losses




The estimations by AMIS differred in several items. Losses in equipment were six times the costs of new constructions, while for CEPAL they were only three times. Indirect losses for CEPAL were 13 percent of total losses while for AMIS the ratio was 23 percent (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 273ff). Figure 4.4 compares graphically the three estimations.

Figure 4.4: Compared estimations (According to Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 274, 278, 279, 280)

Domínguez and Zepeda wondered how was it possible that serious seriou organizations could attain so completely different results. In their opinion the appraisal by CEPAL was particularly interesting because it was “a meticulous work, made according to an already proved methodology from other similar disasters” (1986: 272). CEPAL explained “in the most clear, explicit and detailed way” the criteria used, but several factors which resulted in direct or indirect costs had been left outside the calculations. For example, the losses in information by destruction of files —indeed accumulated workówould be impossible to recover or it would have a very high cost. Costs for reposition of equipment were calculated according to the prices at the time of the quake. In Mexico such costs would rise very

much under the period of reposition and reconstruction. It is possible to conclude that absolute and common criteria to reckon economic losses obviously do not exist, instead only opinions do (1986: 282ff). Besides the ones commented here, several other calculations were also published. The estimates varied between 2000 and 31 800 M$, but the majority kept within a range from 3000 to 7000 M$ (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 269).Another factor of instability in calculations was the inflation. Thomas E. Drabek sustained that the reconstruction in Mexico City lasted about three years, from February 1986 through March 1989 (Drabek 1989: 12). Along this time the dollar rose from 400 to 2600 Mexican pesos. Further, there were other not recorded losses, for example the extraordinary costs derived from necessary displacements of productive resources to act in rescues. The operation of a high capacity crane cost in 1985 900 000 pesos a day, i e around 2300 dollars (Musacchio 1986: 99). A total appraisal of the indirect losses is extremely difficult —nearly impossibleóbecause the damages in the socioeconomic network are of a very complex art. Sources of indirect losses are for example payment of salaries without production, the moves of offices and commodities, and so on. Accumulated negative effects in one and the same area result in ruptures of the social networks, and this is more important than the sole sum of the firsthand consequences. For example, one could imagine the business district functioning in some way despite lacking running water but it is difficult to think that the activities could keep going without water, electricity and telephones. In this case the losses must actually be considered higher than the ones caused by the mere lack of services, because complementarity and network activities become impossible (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 286ff). The sum of indirect effects is expressed not only as ruptures in linkages, but also as disrupted complementarity, simultaneity of activities and social external economies, for example, as disrupted interaction among industries, services and trade. This sum has such a magnitude, complexity and transcendence, that it is actually “much larger than the simple quantification of direct and indirect losses” (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 295). Furthermore, the effects in the realm of daily life ought to be considered too. The researcher Nakabayashi (1980) proposed the establishment of a sufferer ratio to measure the indirect effects of disasters in the community. Many of the ravaged buildings and installations in Mexico City were

insured, and the Mexican insurance companies had to answer for 2000 M$. They must pay 25 percent of this total, and the worldwide system of reinsurance should cover the rest. In reality, the possible payments do not signify the recovery of the losses because the context of economic shortages and high inflation made the losses actually higher. Most of the properties were indeed insured by a lower value than the real one, what depended on one hand upon the intention of avoiding higher insurance costs, and on the other hand upon the inflation rate. The rhythm of inflation made impossible to keep buildings and inventories insured to their real values because these were permanently changing. The situation of housing was different: dwellings or block of flats owned as condominiums were to 95 percent uninsured (Musacchio 1986: 98, 99).

Information This chapter discusses issues aiming to understand how information and communication functioned in the Mexican disaster. In the first part of this book I presented a background to information and mass media in a disaster context, so here the content is limited to what was observed in Mexico. I am principally going to focus the analysis on the role of the mass media and on the official policy for gathering and disseminating information. Communication processes are barely referred to and which aims at underlining some problems of coordination. All analysis on this subject coincide in pointing out information as one of the problematic areas in the commented disaster. Confusing official information and unforeseen communication channels contributed to more difficulties in coping with the situation.

Mass media in the Mexican disaster

The population of Mexico City enjoys a significant offer of information through the mass media and when the quakes happened about two third of the inhabitants had television sets. The ownership of radio sets is so widespread that it is seldom enumerated in surveys. There were seven television stations and 57 radio stations in operation. Functional illiteracy was appraised to around 20 percent and more than two dozen newspapers were available. On the day of the earthquake more than 60 percent listened to some radio station, but among them who did not listen at all there were many homeless or people without electricity services. Further, over 50 percent watched television sometime in the day. Nearly a third of all watchers and listeners got information during eight or more hours. Only 16 percent read a newspaper that day, but it is coincident with the normal daily figure (Dynes et al 1990: 82ff). Official surveys showed that during peak hours in the three to four days after the quakes an average of 15 to 20 million people watched news about the disaster on television, and regarding radio audience the experts claimed that “the totality of the Mexican populationâ€? listened to such information (Palacios et al 1986: 281). The mass communication system as a whole suffered little damage, but the private television network was out of the air for four hours due to severe damages in its main studio. Some broadcasters suffered damages too, with collapsed premises. Rescues started spontaneously without waiting for official directives and mainly headed by volunteers. The people began to build a network for information. They informed television stations and broadcasters what they were doing, where they had seen damages, and what kind of help was needed. At once this confusing and chaotic mass of information, partially, locally collected, was broadcasted on radio and television. Reporters in the streets reported what they observed, and spontaneity and improvisation led the first response. Communication took place in the beginning by personal contacts, when neighbors and relatives assisted the victims. From an initial phase of isolation and confusion, the spontaneous networks developed towards better feasibility. One week after the tremors people tried to impede demolitions with explosives and groups of volunteers met at the places in question started through a telephone chain. They had such power, that the government had to go back to avoid confrontations (BriseĂąo and De Gortari 1987: 54).

Radio was suited to the emergency. Despite power shortages several stations continued broadcasting because they could generate their own electricity, and transistor radios allowed the reception. Lack of electricity was not a hindrance for communication, but this communication showed the usual bias of mass media. Besides calling for help, the radios exposed dangers of delinquency, and congratulated officials and volunteers. It is true that radio and television programmes led grassroot help actions but other outcomes of this led to traffic clogs, duplicated efforts and multiplied chaos according to a journalist (Excélsior 19850929: 10). Nevertheless, the part of the media was very important. The spontaneous mobilization had limits; there was no structured organization to lead the actions, or to know about every attempted action. In the beginning the electronic media, and in a lesser extent the newspapers, played an important part in coordinating voluntary help, supply of water or medicines, and search of missing people; they /also/ denounced and proposed measures against unscrupulous shop owners (Briseño and De Gortari 1987: 53) Continual broadcasting activity made possible rescues to be attained speedy and efficient The distribution of medication, water, clothing, food, etc, to the disaster victims, as well as the despatching of heavy construction equipment and rescue crews, were only some of the services they rendered. Calls for help were transmitted via visual and auditory signals to government and voluntary rescue groups that were organized almost miraculously /.../ As a result of the use of this system of communications, the largest television and radio audience in the history of the country was established (Palacios et al 1986: 280)

Monsiváis (1987: 89) maintained that under the first hours the radio supplied necessary fragments of information and played its role as traditional network of confidence and security. Already during the first day this attitude was changing, the disaster began to be treated as a collection of human individual dramas, and its societal character became more or less hidden. Since the almost total collapse of the telephone net, the radio took over and started to send particular messages within the country and abroad (Arreola et al. 1986: 111). The National Broadcasting Net reached on September 25 at 7:30 AM, 168 hours of non-interrupted transmission of both help demands and personal messages (Excélsior 19850926: 45A).

The newspapers played a quite different role by opening their pages to debate and presented a broad coverage of what happened. This gave the new victim organizations an unexpected repercussion. Without the press, the struggles for help and shelters, economic compensations, hospital services, and all similar movements “/would/ not have been linked to each other with the necessary urgent and external support.” (Monsiváis 1987: 90). The press sent messages to people not directly involved in the assistance. Both fear, empathy, or criticisms could develop within this sector of the informed community. In spite of that, and in general —as stated by Teresa Carb"óthe newspapers functioned as an echo of official statements. Newspapers cooperated to bring calm, trying to diminish failures and stressing positive and optimistic opinions. The President was shown as a fatherly personage, often a representative for efficacy and dynamism. Nevertheless, the complexity and volume of messages and information let place for criticism and for caricatures of the political situation too (Carb" et al. 1987: 143ff). Furthermore, the newspapers became victims of confusion and urgency. The first quake's intensity and duration were reported in several newspapers with three or four different figures respectively (Poniatowska 1988: 58 ff). Concrete societal shortcomings in facing the catastrophe were often hidden under a coat of positiveness. All assignments of clear responsibilities about the disaster was in this way avoided. The immediate past had to be forgotten to face to a future of positiveness, and the catastrophe could be reexamined in positive terms. In this reexamination all instances of the power structure participated. Information channels, especially newspapers, became a privileged source so as to cause a change in the vision of the disaster: /then/ the catastrophe could be faced obliterating the traits of its origin, converting it in an exploit, which heroic dimension guaranteed the future. /The/ discourse appears in this way to be able to bring down the facts (Carb" et al. 1987: 143 ff). The mass media had a large responsibility for the development of emergency in what concerns international assistance. The chief of Barcelona's firemen pointed out this importance before press reporters in Mexico: “What we were told had happened, and what had really happened /had/ nothing to do with each other. The media informed that Mexico City was destroyed” (Excélsior 19851001: 29A). A totally destroyed city needed another kind of assistance than if damages had only local range. Many international media informed that the disaster was total, and Mexico City

had been erased from the map. The US’ television chains NBC, CBS and ABC sustained it; the New York Post affirmed that the Monument to the Revolution had collapsed and Cable Net Network said there were tens of thousand dead (Morales 1986: 232). In Latin America and Europe the reports shifted from exaggerations to a more moderate picture. The quake was in general considered the worst tragedy in Mexico's history, and the European television said there were tens of thousand dead, missing and injured. Criticisms of the government and admiration for the people's courage and solidarity, appeared in many newspapers (Morales 1986: 233 ff). An informative bias in international media caused resentment and anger in Mexico. They focused the attention on foreign rescue teams in such a way that it “seemed to imply that little search and rescue had been undertaken before their arrival” (Dynes et al 1990: 56), which of course was not true. Some researchers forwarded to the mass media a good portion in what they called “the largest psychological disaster in peace time.” Not only the victims, but the majority of the population experienced an enormous psychological effect because of the earthquakes. Nevertheless, this impact was not caused by human losses, by fear or lost relatives, homes or belongings. The main traumatic agent was the mass communication media. It can be affirmed beyond doubt that such a psychological catastrophe could not have occurred in earlier centuries /Several factors collaborated to it, including/ the bombardment of the post earthquake and by now highly vulnerable audience with heartrending scenes of mutilation, suffering and destruction —without the much needed compensatory visual projections and auditory information of the fact that 99,8 percent of the city was left unscathed (Palacios et al 1986: 279, 281) The deep psychological effect was worsened by the second earthquake. Though the additional damage was minimal: the egos, already disorganized, in severe regression and functioning at maximum hyper-alertness had to react to such a further traumatic stimulation /.../ Needless to say people's urge to receive mass media communication was augmented as was the penetration of the messages (Palacios et al 1986: 281) Palacios and coresearchers made a qualitative differentiation between the messages from government operated television stations and the private owned ones, the latter being... ...far less concerned with the rendering of a public service, flooded their audience with unfold images of agony and death, the most poignant and

gruesome often being transmitted several times over a short period (Palacios et al 1986: 282)

Worst affected were the children, and the engagement of the adults in following the rescue process at the television screens favoured their exposure. Furthermore, collapsed school premises and interrupted lessons left 650 000 children without schools which made watching television easier. Otherwise, radio transmissions did not have the same traumatic effect as the images from “real life horror”, and the newspapers much slower pace of incorporating information allowed “a far more effective use of the ego's neutralizing potential”. The media's huge ability of penetration was also used to counteract the traumatical consequences and most experts in official television and radio channels attempted to enlighten the citizens about what they were undergoing. The newspapers also collaborated in this undertaking.(Palacios et al 1986: 283 ff) Official policy and communication

Officially, the army and DF's authorities responded by collecting and processing information in the Federal District. The first record of damages was accomplished in the morning of the first quake by six hundred soldiers on motorbikes (Excélsior 19850924: 33A). According to this record an official bulletin was published in the evening of September 19. The structure of the assistance brigades, local, spontaneous and independent, was a disadvantage for building up a suitable network for communications. Such a network had to be foreseen in advance, with some kind of co-ordination. It is a task to be attempted under normal circumstances and the authorities should be its logical organizers. Ineffectiveness is otherwise the price of improvisations, when a disaster happens. In Mexico City there was a lack of some centralized information central open to the public, nor foreseen in advance either, nor arranged after the quakes. We think the government could have addressed a broadcasting channel to coordinate the rescues, something they did not. /Several/ groups went to the same place but to other places nobody came. The rescue groups had indeed to look for themselves after places to work; nobody told them where to go. (A volunteer in Novelo 1987: 24) Several authorities gathered information independently, which resulted in confusion. For example, a Disaster Work Headquarters was set up by the DF's police to gather data about damages in the streets. Patrol vehicles and

10 helicopters worked from the first hours with it and the gathered data were plotted on a map. But communications failed: Unfortunately, the initiative was not taken to quickly publicize the efforts in progress and to furnish such a map and its underlying data base to other agencies involved in emergency response (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 111) Both the Office of the Mayor and the DDF's Public Works Department were engaged in their own surveys and map plotting. In spite of all duplicate efforts, the volunteers in the rescues did not have access to suitable information Members of the International Emergency Action, a voluntary assistance group, declared to journalist Elena Poniatowska that building plans were not available, nor maps of blocked streets. Not one official pointed out on a map where the ruined buildings were, where other rescuers worked, were they could go to help. Such a chaos, the brigadists said, could last for the first 72 hours, but afterwards it would be not acceptable (La Jornada 19851007, quoted in Terremotos 1986: 519). Another testimony about the lack of foreseen communication channels came from other international rescue groups: US disaster assistance teams were stymied by the lack of communication and coordination with other international teams who were working toward the same goal. There were no previous policies to guide international search and rescue operations. Given the obvious need for better coordination in international search and rescue operations, the leaders of several international teams began to meet every evening to report on the day's activities, to share information, and to outline coordinated activities for the next day's work. (Comfort 1988: 10)

Mexican authorities had to cope not only with a disaster, but with a previous situation of crisis and discontentedness too. The earthquakes, suspicions and claims, conflicts between spontaneous and official actions, denouncements and public declarations, must be seen against this background. The supply of information mirrored this fact, and was coloured by it. In this way, the official reports were prudently managed according to instructions from the President, who said the mass media and the officials had to inform with veracity and depth to avoid rumors. Discrepancies and confusion in the authorities' information “were felt by the society as forms of concealing” (Arreola et al. 1986: 107). After the first week, since Wednesday 25 September all official information was centrally emitted, as police chief Mota Sánchez declared to the press (Musacchio 1986: 49). An official truth was then established. The worst confusion ended, but the truth was not convincing. On October 18, journalists Alfredo Jiménez and Emilio Velázquez commented:

Nobody knows about figures today. /The authorities/ evade the responsibility to inform. Nobody knows the number of the dead. Nevertheless, it had been said that it was not important. More important was /they said/ to avoid the occurrence of a new disaster. (Excélsior 19851018: 4A)

One of the major criticisms against Mexican authorities was addressed to the way they took care of information. Contradictory data, as shown in precedent tables, gave an adequate background for suspicions. Since the first evening, the officials declared that the situation was somewhat under control, but contradictions, complaints and denouncements from varied sources threatened such statements. This was seen as a token of lacking preparedness. The intention of informing to bring calm was not thoroughly judged as positive. Many observers related this policy to alarmist rapports in USA and a real possibility of losing incomes from US’ tourists. The urgent travel of the Secretary of Tourism to several US' cities confirmed this. Certain attitudes did not contribute to a better image. Humberto Romero, chairman of DDF's Press Office, was told by some reporters that, probably due to an error in the press release, the figure of dead was 2500, but the day before 3000 were reported. The journalists asked chairman Romero if they may record 3500 instead. After “a brief reflection”, Romero concluded: “No. It’s better you put 3100” (in Musacchio 1986: 45). Subsecretary of Government Fernando Pérez Correa declared in a press conference for foreign journalists held on September 26 that there were 760 ravaged buildings, but the Metropolitan Emergency Commission (MEC) had said the day before that there were many more collapses. Pérez Correa stated that there had been 1840 dead, when MEC had informed there were 4000. Such statements from the Subsecretary provoked indignation among the journalists (Musacchio 1986: 56, 57). The unknown range of the catastrophe made the rumors grow on. For the authorities this was not good, and they produced a veritable flow of information not only about damages but on preventive measures, extraordinary undertakings in the city, etc. A critical observer summed up the situation: /The eagerness for news/ caused an avalanche of official versions. /An/ infinity of commissions was organized and they spoke unceasingly surrounded by the great disaster, not to tell us what the government was doing, but to make us believe they were doing everything; even more seriously, to make us believe the contrary of what we were seeing. /.../There was an avalanche of 263 official bulletins, 120 declarations, more than one million pamphlets, the reports from the Commissions, bylaws and their amendments, discourses, statements, explanations, appearances in the television, etc, etc. In a few days, a pyramid of paper was built (Aguilar 1986: 91, 92).

Figure 4.5: Communication chain linking donors and victims from the perspective of the Red Cross (According to Drabek 1989: 23)

Communication between authorities and citizens did not work satisfactorily, but that between chief and subordinates did not exist either (Briseño and De Gortari l987: 11ff). To depict the complexity of the networks Figure 4.5. shows main linkages among victims, victims, authorities and participating actors in Mexico. Focus is placed on a single large disaster relief organization, namely the League of the Red Cross Societies. The magnitude of the disaster made information gathering a preeminent task, but the locally collected data were not integrated. In the first day interaction and communication among agencies or groups was lacking. “The problem of lack of any integration of a vertical nature (that is, up and down between organizations at different levels) with the DDF was fairly severe during the first two or three days.” (Dynes et al 1990: 35). Officials at Delegaci"n-level level felt themselves overwhelmed by the necessary duties and the lack of communication There was no coordination with the Department. On the first two or three days the delegaci"n was not able to carry out its duties, but the DDF did not take over, either. There was a complete absence of a line of authority or coordination. Supposedly by that time the DN-3 DN 3 plan should have gone into effect, a desk established tablished for sending out directives, a camp of action, a hierarchy, and there was none. So many of the efforts were in vain, because everyone —like a

hundred institutions, education, universities贸went out to the streets doing things without any direction (quoted in Dynes et al 1990: 35)

Besides the lack of foreseen coordination plans and communication channels, the features of the dispersed damage patterns and the large number of people and organizations involved at all levels of emergency added to the confusion. Officials were also obliged to trust to information from the radio, as many testimonies showed. The spontaneity and massive involvement of people and institutions attained however an effective response.

5. The Recovery in Mexico City

This chapter deals with the work back to normality. As discussed before, it is possible to differentiate among three stages in this process: emergency, restoration and reconstruction. Emergency is analyzed in general terms through observing the activities within both the spontaneous and the official response. Grassroots volunteers were the first to mobilize. The official response depended upon a disaster plan that put forward unforeseen operational questions. In Mexico the emergency lasted several weeks because of the extended pattern of serious damages and a weak official action under the first days. Large damages were also cause of delays in restoring the city's lifelines. In this part the focus of the analysis changes to the description of particular recovery processes, as for schools and transport. Undoubtedly, the recovery of housing was a huge societal undertaking. It started soon, but the reconstruction and patching of ruined dwellings demanded negotiations with the refugees and measures as the expropriation of several thousand plots. The reconstruction was a long and decisive social process, in which the relations between authorities and citizens at least passed through two phases. The first phase of the traditional vertical planning came by and by to be partially replaced by a more democratic participation.


Emergency This period lasted around two weeks, and it is possible to differentiate three stages within it. The first two or three days of the response were characterized by spontaneity. After that the official institutional presence became stronger, mainly by the intervention of the military but also because of the establishment of emergency authorities and of an information central. After one week the dimensions of the disaster were quite known and the rescues ceased in intensity. The last week manifested itself by the completion of a net of shelters and the organization of help to the victims; further, the function of some lifelines were reestablished Spontaneous involvement among direct and indirect victims, within or outside the impact areas, showed that they could in broad terms manage the situation themselves. Solidarity and mutual assistance supplied shelters, clothes and food. Improvisation and lack of communication resulted in what some interpreted as chaos. The response was indeed rather effective according to the previous contexts and the extended pattern of damages. The response of Mexican authorities perhaps mirrored a more traditional view of relief operations in which victims are passive receivers of help, ignorant about rescues and thrown into social chaos and disruption. Therefore, victims had to be kept outside the disaster zone, and their emergency organizations Ñmay be regarded as a product of chaos and not of necessityÑ were seen by the authorities with some doubts at least from the beginning. When the specially tailored emergency commissions were grounded and they started to undertake the very first emergency tasks this had already been accomplished by the massive involvement at grassroots level and the improvisation of local authorities. Spontaneous response

Early in the morning on Thursday l9 September 1985, life was busy as usual in the large metropolis. Suddenly, everything changed. Picture in your mindÑa television tower. See it there rising above that cluster of buildings. Now let yourself feel a sense of fright. First you see the tower sway and then it comes crashing downward! Let your ears hear the screams, the shouts, the pain of human beings who lie trapped beneath this twisted mass

3 of steel. Picture in your mindÑbuildings, large and small, collapsing in front of you. Let your ears hear the cries of anguish from children who are terrified, and from parents who are hurting (Drabek 21989: 7). A major earthquake had struck Mexico. The city core was ruined; the sight in the streets was horrifying. Immediately, astonished people tried to help trapped victims. Response began. In a matter of hours, a crowd of many thousand volunteers filled the damaged zone devoted to save lives. Their presence should be dominant under the first days of the aftermath. Thousands and thousands, up to 300 000 according to an appraisal /most/ of them young people, spontaneously being present without any call or convocation, were there themselves though their solidary presence was useful (Arreola et al. 1986: 111). The real number of volunteers have been difficult to establish and the appraisals varied from 30 000 to over one million. Even if a survey showed that only 9.8 percent of all inhabitants of Mexico City "engaged on some kind of volunteer action at some time during the nearly three weeks subsequent to the disaster impact" the enormous population base in the Metropolitan Area made the 9.8 percent representative for over 2 000 000 volunteers. If children under 12 are excluded from the sample, the percentage rises to 12.4 percent, of which over 40 percent worked at search and rescue. Anyhow, the presence of voluntary brigades in the streets was impressive (Dynes et al 1990: 84ff). Without previous warning, spontaneously, on the spot, 25-to-100-people brigades were organized, small voluntary armies, ready to dare and to transform: where there were planks and sheets there would appear stretchers; where the spectators flourished, there would be disciplined rows bearing objects from hand to hand, pulling ropes, craving to save at least one single life (Monsiváis 1987: 19). Under the first days the number of brigades was increasing. On September 20 there were 150 000 young brigadists in the streets, as an observer appraised. Only in Cuauhtémoc delegaci—n there were 2500 brigades officially recorded. (Monsiváis 1987:35). At the end of September there still worked in Cuauhtémoc 1900 brigades in 340 rescue fronts, some of them of more than 40 people, informed the Delegado Favre del Rivero to the Metropolitan Emergency Commission (Excélsior 19850930). The brigadists often lacked suitable equipment and appropriate tools or devices but they belonged to small, very autonomous and agile groups,

4 without hierarchy or authorities, to which the members joined their own resources (Arreola et al. 1986: 111ff). In some rescue fronts the situation changed when machinery and know-how from the army and public or private enterprises were put into action. Rescues in the ruined tall buildings of a modern city demand heavy machinery and equipment. After the third day of the emergency the original... ...individual and informal response /changed to a pattern of formal rescue/ undertaken by organizational personnel and group volunteers. The brigades of workers from the various agencies collectively undertook the task under the supervision of construction and design experts from their units (Dynes et al 1990: 56).

Dynes and coresearchers came to the conclusion that despite former studies pointing to them as young males from the impact zone the profile of a brigadist was very difficult to establish. According to the surveys they carried out only 4 percent of the interviewed brigadists were from the devastated neighborhoods and 12.3 percent from surrounding fringe areas. The majority, 54.4 percent, resided far from the centers of destruction. Male volunteers were two thirds of the total survey population, being the majority among 18 to 29 years old. Upper class individuals volunteered over the expected proportion while lower class volunteers resulted in fewer. The latter engaged in higher proportion to search and rescue while the former mainly engaged in collecting donations (Dynes et al 1990: 86ff). Non governmental organizations, like the Scouts or the Red Cross, worked beside the brigades or joined them. The Red Cross stated that 10 minutes after the quake, there were personnel of its own in rescues. Half an hour later ambulances arrived from different towns in the Valley to join in the work. Three hours later several succor stands were set up in the damaged zone. Under the first day 1600 injured received help, of which 600 were sent to hospitals (ExcĂŠlsior 19850927: 40A). In one or another way practically all existing organizations were involved in the emergency response. Institutions as public and private universities, large lifeline organizations, churches, labour unions, sport clubs, etc, joined the effort with personnel and resources, or, even helped with donations. Some examples give a sample of the breadth of the response. Equipment from the National Autonomous University (UNAM) like radio, computers, vehicles, were used for emergency tasks. The students joined the brigades but also carried out specific duties according to their specialization (UNAM 1985: 81).

5 The administrative employees donated three days of their salary (Excélsior 19850924). The worker unions organized special assistance groups according to their areas of activity such as oil workers, telephone operators, pilots, electricians. The miners opened tunnels through the rubble from ruined buildings and their ability was appreciated. The Central of Mexican Workers (CTM) adopted an 8-points action plan to set up shelters, use the union's vehicles in emergency tasks, and deliver goods from the union's own warehouses. They also demanded a moratory in the payments of the foreign debt, a postponement of wage increases, and a summoning of the employers that did not pay compensation for lost wages in the disaster (Arreola et al. 1986: 113). The 4 000 000 members of CTM donated a day's salary (Excélsior 19850923), and the members of the Mexican Army did the same with three days of their incomes (Monsiváis 1987: 37). All workers and peasant unions in the country made similar donations. Another actor, the Church, disposed 900 buildings as shelters, organized eight centers for help and a Catholic Assistance Fund (Arreola et al 1986: 115; Excélsior 19850926: 4). Private businessmen and enterprises donated goods and money, and gave services without charge. Vehicles and machinery were lent to rescuers. The Business Council, like other business organizations, collected food and medicine and expressed their criticisms about lacking emergency plans. Divided opinions were immediately expressed about possible payment postponements of the foreign debt. Statements from several quarters within businessmen raised other claims. No extraordinary reconstruction taxes and yes to prolonged work time (Arreola et al. 1986:113,114). Private hospitals, a very important factor in Mexican medical services, allowed 50 percent of their capacity without charge to take care of earthquake victims (Monsiváis 1987:37). Many private organizations of all kinds, such as clubs or sport teams, opened shelters for the homeless. Already in the first day the victims founded pressure and defence groups. In places where former neighbour unions existed Ñas in the damaged zones of Tepito or TlatelolcoÑ started a struggle for shelters, assistance and new dwellings. Assemblies, new organizations, documents and petitions were the first steps, later, they founded a United Front of Victims (Arreola et al. 1986: 112ff). On September 2l, the victims' organizations demanded the control of help distribution. Two days later the neighbors of the ruined dwelling complex Multifamiliar Juárez protested publicly against local authorities in Cuauhtémoc. They tried to take payment for delivering rescued corpses, and offered places in unexistent shelters. In the heavy damaged Tlatelolco

6 dwelling complex an assembly of victims denounced "negligence and corruption" of the authorities because lacking maintenance during a long time caused the state-owned blocks of flats to collapse (Esto pasó1986: 101). One week after the quake, on September 27, COPOSORE ) was started with people from universities, political parties and labour unions, from CONAMUP ) and from other movements joining it. About 65 NGOs discussed a common program for grassroots assistance campaigns and reconstruction, in opposition to the official policy. A protest march with 15 000 participants demanded on this day the withdrawal of the army from the damaged zones and the right to keep living in the same places as before the quakes. They manifested their opposition to wreckages and claimed a democratic reconstruction policy (Hallberg 1989:99). Further, they wanted to be allowed to use still habitable damaged buildings (Dynes et al 1990: 92). In the newspapers from September 27 the Union of Victims from Roma —a neighborhood where many privateowned block of flats collapsed in the tremors— claimed... ...restitution of housing/ and they also demanded that the authorities/ ought to start investigations about the responsibility of constructors of ruined buildings /They/ also demanded the accomplishment of a census of victims to allow a control of the distribution of foreign aid. Finally, they wanted the government to expropriate land for reconstruction (Excélsior 19850927).

Neighbors from the area of Tepito "where the streets are large market places" announced to a parliamentary commission the lack of any kind of official help. Neither policemen, soldiers, nor the Red Cross had been there. No food had been distributed. They interpreted this as a punishment because they refused to move to shelters. Most of Tepito's houses had frozen rents since the 40's, rent in some cases as low as one dollar a month. The neighbors worried because the houseowners could grasp the opportunity to get rid of the tenants, afterwards to demolish the old houses with the pretext of irreparable damages (Excélsior 19850927). In the rescue fronts, grassroots' and official actions took place side by side. While the volunteers demanded tools and devices to work with, the government entrusted the good will of possible donors. Despite an overall positive assessment of governmental actions ) or at least no much negative criticisms the most unfavorable viewed group were the military and the police Ñthough over 64 percent evaluate their action in positive termsÑ. The action of the volunteers was positive for over 90 percent of the interviewed despite 11 percent thought they acted in a disorganized way (Dynes et al 1990: 92ff)


Conflicts arose between on one side volunteers and victims' relatives, and on the other troops that hindered them to enter into the zones of damage (Proceso 19850923). Several testimonies also showed an extended mistrust against authorities, mostly against the detectives of the Judicial police considered brutal, corrupt and arbitrary. Oil workers doing rescues in collapsed bank offices resolved to rip all money bills they found to avoid robberies from the policemen in place. Miners working in other ruins decided to leave money, watches and jewellery under the rubble so poor people could pick them up in the outdoor deposits off demolition masses. Otherwise the policemen would have taken care of these, and they would probably have disappeared. A university brigade preferred to throw jewellery, money, dollars, in the trash cans, with the hope that they "would benefit some trash-pickers", because they could not stand seeing "judicial policemen robbing all valuable things they found". If relatives were in place, recovered objects were of course delivered to them, but not otherwise, said the observers (Musacchio 1986: 70). The official view about such irregularities is presented further on. A rescuer commented about the occurrence of purchase and abuse of solidarity. For example, some brigades had been misled to rescue goods or safety-boxes instead of trapped people. During the disaster the same power relations as seen in daily life survived (Musacchio 1986: 71). Foreign assistance

Help from other countries soon reached Mexico. Already under the first day, the United Nations offered assistance and some other 20 countries. In total, Mexico got help from 59 UN countries and the Vatican state, and from many non-governmental or inter-governmental organizations as Caritas, Red Cross, OAS, PAHO, UNESCO, FAO, etc. One week after the quake hundreds of tons of material help had arrived (MonsivĂĄis 1987: 37). Under the following weeks several statesmen visited Mexico to express solidarity. Rescue teams from many countries flew immediately to Mexico. Brigades from France, Holland, West Germany, US, Canada and Switzerland arrived since the 2l to work in the city (Alvarez Icaza 1985: 151). The media and the public paid large attention to the foreign teams. On September 25 in the ruined JuĂĄrez Hospital there were 200 Mexicans, Americans, Frenchmen, Italians, Guatemalans and Hondureans working under the command of a major from the Mexican Army (ExcĂŠlsior 19850926:46A). In the same day a brigade of

8 48 Spanish firemen bringing rescue equipment arrived in Mexico. It was the first time a Spanish team collaborated in an emergency so far away from their country (Excélsior 19851001: 29A). A total sum of 1141 brigadists from 19 countries joined the Mexican rescuers. The contrast with their resources and those of the volunteers was sharp and evident. International solidarity brigades travelled with their devices, like heavy machines, tools, rescue equipment, vehicles, and 154 trained dogs. /The volunteers worked/ with spades, pieces of iron, and other equipment. /The foreigners brought/ their ultrasound detectors, tracking monitors, electronic eyes (Monsiváis 1987: 67, 35).

A summary of their achievements from the arrival of the first brigadists until Tuesday 25 attested to the fact that they rescued 80 trapped people alive and recovered 250 corpses. On Thursday 26 the thirteen foreign teams had practically ended the mission. Last in travelling home were French, German, Canadian, Italian and Brazilian brigadists on September 28 (Morales 1986: 241ff), but remaining 89 members of the 400-men-large French brigade left Mexico on September 29. Commandant Duilliard stated that everything had been positive and some disorganization present may be an outcome of the situation (Excélsior 19851001: l6A). These declarations contradicted other facts presented in press notices. The disorganization was significant, and the foreigners did not always work under the best thinkable conditions. French and German rescuers protested because demolitions started without the absolute assurance that no survivors were left under the debris. US' brigadists claimed discrepancies with Mexican authorities, what US' ambassador John Gavin, as he was then, confirmed in a press conference: "We have heard it and in fact we are involved in this controversy" Ñhe saidÑ. Discrepancies had been a consequence of the tough work, in which the involved people reached the limits of physical and emotional endurance (Excélsior 19850926: 40A). On September 26 serious differences with troops and policemen, lack of both coordination and guarantees to do their work, was the background to Swiss and German decision to leave. The German team chief affirmed that better coordination with police and army could have saved more lives. He had observed grave faults in organizing rescues. When his brigade arrived they were lodged in a luxury hotel despite they wanted to start working in the emergency at once. The injured were transported in vehicles without the minimal sanitary requirements Ñthe German team chief stated. The German ambassador however stated that the team chef had not told the truth. The

9 withdrawal had been planned and they had worked without problems (ExcĂŠlsior 19850927: l2A). In JuĂĄrez Hospital on September 22, Swiss and French brigadists had a quarrel with Mexican authorities. The same day, the Metro Fire Rescue from Florida, US, disputed with brigadists from PEMEX about the right way to work. Army officers in place decided to take over, and Metro's Commandant claimed to US' ambassador, who protested to the Secretary of Defence. Since then, the Mexican Army controlled all rescue operations (Morales 1986:241). An indication of unexpected problems by the arrival of foreign brigadists was presented by the following. Customs officers stopped the Spanish team when they disembarked at the airport and were going to confiscate their equipment as smuggled goods because of formalities lacked by customs, when higher authorities intervened to resolve the situation (ExcĂŠlsior 19850927: l2A). According to the Plan DN III, the army had the main responsibility for rescues. The day after the foreign brigades left, a spokesman from the Secretariat of Defence said that 10 000 troops engaged in the Plan had received orders to assume a greater participation and engagement in rescues, help and vigilance actions, "to save the image of the Mexican Army" (La Jornada 19850929 in Musacchio 1986: 69). On September 28 many brigades left Mexico, and in the newspapers appeared different statements. Rescuers from Canada and the US said there were still many lives to be saved but their work was no longer considered necessary, and they could not explain why. A French volonteer expressed the same opinion. Bernard Bouchet, then the French ambassador, said that France would maintain constant assistance and, if the brigadists would be called again, they will come back (in Musacchio 1986: 69). The foreigners enjoyed a kind of diplomatic immunity, and their opinions or criticisms gained special pondus in the mass media. May be, this pondus put additional difficulties on the Mexican officials trying to save the situation. Contrasts in preparedness and equipment were shocking, and this operated in the mass media as a visible denouncement of failures in pre-disaster planning. Mexican authorities were evidently not prepared to meet this kind of Assistance. In the best spirit of diplomacy and hospitality, foreign brigadists were welcomed as honoured guests but the consequences were conflicting. They wanted directives to start working at once but such directives did not exist.


The Mexican government denied in the first moment the need of foreign assistance, with the possible intention of keeping an image of independence. President de la Madrid declared on September l9 that the country had enough resources to face the emergency, and foreign aid was offered, but not requested. The Secretary of Foreign Affairs Bernardo Sepœlveda declared on September 20 Ñbefore the second quakeÑ that "spontaneous and solidary help" should be welcomed, but Mexico did not ask for it. Only after the second tremor a list of necessary items were set up, including helicopters and special devices for rescues. First only then the country solicited aid. Mexico did not want to appear as a country assisted (Morales 1986: 238). Morales stated that those subtle statements were the way to show off selfsufficiency regarding the mighty neighbour, the US. The complex relationships between Mexico and the US was expressed in the public debate. Attitudes and statements from the US ambassador were considered unpleasant and the visit of Nancy Reagan to Mexico City and expression of solidarity with Miguel Ñas President Reagan called the Mexican PresidentÑ was interpreted by some opinion makers as political propaganda. Cuban assistance offered was also a matter of controversy. Some countries have the policy of asking about necessities before sending help, while other countries do not. Cuba offered aid from the very first minute, but awaited an answer from Mexico. Argentina, Japan and Germany started sending help without previous consideration. This double behaviour gave origin to rumors. Cuban help should have been discriminated for political reasons, but actually it was not (Morales 1986: 238). International solidarity was impressive and the people in Mexico felt great empathy and support, but as Journalist Marta Robles wondered, had Mexico not been able to supply the extraordinary demand in food and medicines caused by the disaster? The problem, for her, was passivity from the authorities. "If the government had given an order /national/ industry and commerce would have covered all demands" (Excélsior 19850925). The intention of saving lives is worth all respect, and without the foreign brigades more Mexicans would have died under the ruins, but, except for that, Mexico managed in general terms to come through the emergency by her own force. Disaster preparedness in the place in question will be in all ways more effective than sudden help flown from several thousand kilometers away. Further, and as it has been observed in many disasters, also in Mexico...

11 ...the convergence of materials proved to be far in excess of the needs of the victims, and was mostly composed of much unusable and unneeded items. This created serious problems for collection, distribution and disposal. For example, very large quantities of medical supplies arrived although there was no shortage of medicine in Mexico City. /Clothing/ arrived in massive amounts, but some of it was not usable in a semi-tropical country such as Mexico. One storage room was eventually filled with shoes that were only for the right foot (Dynes et al 1990: 68) The distribution of assistance in goods was since October 3 controlled by a Supervisor Committee of International Donations, headed by the Secretary of the country's Federal Auditor (Morales 1986: 244, 245). The DDF collected the arriving help in five major warehouses and coordinated the distribution with the Red Cross, shelters and organizations. The tasks related to the handling of aid in goods involved thousands of people and lasted several months (Dynes et al 1990: 68ff) To administrate those goods the public debate took into account a test of the government's reliability. With or without reasons, imported goods are reputed to be better than the ones produced in Mexico and the fact that they were donated gave clothes, tents and tools a high commercial value. In repeated opportunities the press informed on donated goods that "disappeared", had been snatched by officials or rescuers, or directed to the market. As former research demonstrated, rumors about corruption and robberies often happen in disaster situations, and the media enlarged the importance of that. /Rumors of corruption/ tend to distort expectations. Often, this reduces levels of trust and in turn undermines interpersonal relationships. Corruption can never be condoned, of course. However, rumors of looting during the emergency phase are analogous to those of corruption which often emerge during the rehabilitation period (Drabek 1989 :14). In Mexico, previous political tensions aggravated it and the citizens mistrusted corrupted officials for keeping goods. The authorities were well-aware of this. and informed accurately in large press advertisements about the origin, the amount and the destination of foreign aid. A watch-dog commission care of this and 30 000 victims with victim cards received assistance in foreign goods.


Official response

. A day-by-day record of the first week will show the path of the governmental response. The last days of September are globally considered. Records of damages and victims had been discussed before and a more specific analysis of losses is included in the next chapter.

Thursday l9 Three hours after the earthquake, the President and other authorities made a course of inspection in the devastated downtown. Mexico City was considered a disaster zone and in consequence the Plan DN III was in force (Alvarez Icaza 198: 149) ). An extraordinary cabinet meeting held at 1 PM named two Emergency Commissions: the National and the Metropolitan though the Plan DN III did not in an explicit way foresee those commissions ). The National Commission had representatives from the Secretariats of Defence, Navy, Foreign Affairs, Budget, Communications, Health, and Urban Development. Three working groups within the commission had to record damages, to design and to carry out coping measures. A National Reconstruction Fund started (Terremotos 1986: 501). The Metropolitan commission included representatives from the Secretariats of Defence, Navy, Budget, Agriculture and Water, Health, Communications, and Education. Its goals were the appraisal of damages in Mexico City and to coordinate the assistance. Three working committees took care of concrete tasks: Evaluation, Building Inspections, and Building Regulations. The last named working committee had to update the regulations then in force. Technical secretary of both Commissions was the subsecretary of Government. The Secretary of Government headed the National Commission, while the Metropolitan one was headed by the Mayor of the DF (Terremotos 1986: 501). "We are ready to come back to normality" said the President and he declared three days of national mourning. School activities were suspended until further notice; urban transports in Mexico City decided not to take charges under three days. Downtown Mexico was kept under military control, according to Plan DN III (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 149ff). A new cabinet meeting

13 was held in the evening, at 8 PM. Afterwards, two press conferences took place. One about recorded damages in the whole country, the other about the situation in Mexico City (Terremotos 1986: 502). The Secretary of Government, spokesman for the National commission, said the situation was "in general terms" under control, and published a first record of damaged public buildings (Arreola et al. 1986: 107). The Mayor published a first estimate of victims (Alvarez Icaza 1984:150). Normal administrative work was of course interrupted by damages, and the presence of the government in the streets was expressed by soldiers, one third of which was devoted to watch and not to rescue. Police and firemen worked beside the volunteers (Terremotos 1986: 501).The President appealed to the citizens to take care of their own business, help the fellow victims and go home, which to some observers implied a criticism to the volunteers (Monsiv谩is 1987: 33).

Friday 20 The Secretariat of Economics started the operation of the National Reconstruction Fund, created the day before. In its board there were top representatives from business and labour unions. Collected money would be exclusively addressed to rebuild schools and hospitals, not offices or dwellings. About the recovery of housing, no indications were expressed (Arreola et al. 1986: 108). The Secretariats of Defence and of Navy declared that in the whole country there were "50 000 elements" involved in rescues (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 150). More accurate data from the Secretary of Defence recorded 3824 soldiers and 1300 marines in the streets of Mexico City, the latter acting in the frame of the Plan SM-85 (Esto pas贸1985: 96). For different reasons, 54 cordons were set up within the disaster zone, the largest comprising of ten blocks by ten blocks (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 111) At 19:38 a new large quake struck the city. One and a half hour later the President sent a message by television. What happened was a great tragedy and the available resources were in many cases overwhelmed. He underlined the extraordinary solidarity, and appealed to the citizens to maintain unity, serenity, firmness and courage, but he did not express any political directives (Arreola et al. 1986: 109). Foreign aid was since this moment accepted. Many observers maintained that the diplomatic attitude about assistance delayed the rescues. The President recommended his collaborators to avoid

14 sensationalistic rumors through a careful management of information. As commented before, such statements, the contradictory records and figures, and the general discoordination were felt by the society as forms of concealment (Arreola et al. 1986: 107). Water supplies would be normal in three or five days more, it was said, and this statement was later interpreted as a sign of either manipulation of data or ignorance of the real situation (Esto pasó1986: 96). The parliament held permanent sessions, and both chambers named special emergency commissions. The parliament as such did not take own initiatives, but only collaborated with the executive authorities (Arreola et al. 1986: 110).

Saturday 2l The Secretary of Education stated that experts would assess the damages in schools to determine which buildings were safe enough to be reopened (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 151). The telephone company allowed the 12 000 telephone-boxes in Mexico City to be used without charge (idem: 152). International telegraph services worked again after two days of interruption. Health authorities warned the population that all drinking water must be boiled before used. Illegal price hikes mostly of basic food were denounced (Esto pasó1986: 98). The Mayor Aguirre censured the dispersion of the volunteers (Monsiváis 1987: 41).

Sunday 22 30 000 soldiers Ñcompare this with the statements the day beforeÑ were devoted to emergency tasks in the whole country, informed the Secretariat of Defence (Esto pasó1986: 97). The newly created Metropolitan Commission started working through 13 coordination groups with specific aims. Nine critical zones were defined in downtown Mexico, and within them the first demolitions began. Many neighbors had been evacuated by the army (Esto pasó1986: 99). Discontentedness and quarrels arose in rescue fronts. Army troops and policemen insisted on demolishing and fumigating the debris to avoid

15 diseases. They addressed "orders" that must be accomplished. Rescuers and relatives of trapped victims asserted that there could still be people alive under the debris. Ram—n Mota Sánchez, police chief in the DF, declared that people working in rescues must be officially registered (Esto pasó1986: 99ff). He also stated: "rescuers and volunteers /cause/ big confusion. They are no longer necessary; they only hinder the authentic rescue corps" (quoted in Monsiváis 1987: 41). A new commission with representatives from the worst damaged official dependencies was created. Its aim was to determine which offices could reopen next day, Monday, to record data about the disaster and face the emergency in the administration (Excélsior 19850923: 1). The Secretariat of Trade set up an emergency program to watch illegal price hikes, and keep food supplies as usual. The President announced a new committee with representatives from "the public, the private and the social" sectors to take care of foreign donations (Terremotos 1986: 512).

Monday 23 The President declared that "decentralization /was/ going to increase", and the Secretary of Government said that a program of reconstruction and urbanization was being elaborated (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 153). Several countries asked the Mexican government about specific help and offered expert knowledge, as the media reported. Unscrupulous people sold drinking water. The use of pipe trucks to solve the shortage of water brought corruption and trouble. The homeless preferred in many cases to sleep in the streets or in cars near their ruined dwellings instead of moving into shelters because they were afraid of robberies or compelled evacuations (The News 19850923). The DDF attempted to reorganize mass shelters. From the first day many small shelters were set up spontaneously besides the official arrangements. Later, the DDF planned to consolidate the mass shelter in four larger units, long term public shelters (Dynes 1990: 67)


Tuesday 24 The Secretary of Economics wanted to meet international banks and other donors to actualize offered financial help (Esto pasó1986: 100). The President, the Secretary of Government and the Mayor held a meeting to discuss planning and building laws, and matters of urban development and administration (Alvarez Icaza 198: 153). For the first time after the quake the President gave specific and concrete directives to his collaborators.(Arreola et al. 1986: 108). The Subsecretary of Government Ram—n Pérez Correa summed up the official view of the disaster before the foreign press reporters. "It is not a crisis, but a national tragedy" (Excélsior 19850924). Fumigation of debris started. There was not much hope left of finding more trapped victims alive (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 154). Deputies from seven opposition parties demanded to know the true number of casualties, and they "urged the authorities not to save the figures" (The News 19850926: 2).

Thursday 26 The first week after the quakes came to its end and the dimension of the catastrophe began to be grasped. The Metropolitan Commission declared that the possibilities to save more lives were exhausted. The first organ to decentralize should be Federal Bridges and Toll Roads: its move to the neighbour city of Cuernavaca was announced (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 164). The Secretary of Defence, General Arévalo Gardoqui, rejected the public denouncements about soldiers in robberies. He explained the role the army was playing and stated that the city was neither occupied nor under siege at all. Only the access to the zones with collapsed buildings was controlled. 80 percent of the troops worked in rescues; 20 percent watched. In the whole Valley there were 9337 soldiers in emergency tasks (Excélsior 19850926: 33A). Accusations against troops were many (Margarita Michelena in Excélsior 19850930: 7A; in Rodr’guez 1987: 32; Brise–o et al. 1987: 11, and note 21, Poniatowska 1988: l24ff). On October 9 the Secretary of Defence discussed the accusations and declared that the troops had orders of taking care of goods, papers or valuable objects, record them, and bring them to the Military Zone I. When the people saw soldiers carrying goods many wrongly

17 interpreted it as robberies. Anyhow, some cases of thefts had occurred. Further, it happened that soldiers or policemen got gifts from store or factory owners as gratification (Terremotos 1986: 537). Criminality was very low under the emergency. According to special dispositions on Plan DN III, catched plunderers would be put under military arrest. They were no more than 500 people, most of them accused of "lesser thefts, nearer necessity than plunder". Anyhow, when the spontaneous solidarity faded away, some "vandal attacks" against shelters occurred (Monsiváis 1987: 65). During the two weeks following the seism the index of criminality in Mexico City actually diminished (Terremotos 1986: 537). The low criminality in a disaster situation is well documented: "Only in very special circumstances has extensive looting behavior been documented by researchers, although rumors and fear of it are widespread. Souvenir hunting is not looting" (Drabek 1989: 14) Since the l9th, without authorization, milk prices rose from 96 to 200 pesos, a bread roll from 5 to 15 pesos and one kilo of eggs costed 500 instead of 265 pesos. Some panic purchases were noted, but this did not depend on scarcity: emergency food supplies functioned well, and Mexico City was getting as much supplies as before the quakes (Excélsior 19850926). The Delegados of Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juárez and Venustiano Carranza Ñthe three worst damaged delegationsÑ presented reports. All the Secretariats involved in the emergency published detailed information on both damages and recovery (Terremotos 1986: 520). The furnished information has been discussed earlier and more details will be commented in the next chapter. An official spokesman for the Metropolitan Commission expressed a controversial statement: since 1132 buildings were ruined and there were 1 404 000 buildings in the DF, only 0,08 percent of the constructions were ruined. Furthermore, only 0,03 percent of the buildings have been Ñor have to beÑ demolished (The News 19850926). These and similar pronouncements Ñdespite a portion of veracityÑ were by many interpreted as attempts to reduce the magnitude of the disaster disregarding its qualitative aspects. The ruined buildings Ñindeed at least ten times more than 1132Ñ housed capital government offices, schools, large hospitals, and more. Lawyer Jesœs Lima Souza commented that only few documents were rescued from the files of Mexico's Federal System of Justice, after the building had crumbled and burned down. "What this means for Mexico's legal system is greatly unknown", he said. Official Romero Pérez, from FD's government stated: "I

18 am not trying to alarm the citizens but there is still no exact date for guaranteeing the supply of drinking water in the city" (The News 19850926).

The end of the emergency

Several organizations of architects denounced false experts doing assessments of damaged buildings. They also warned for official experts, who in many cases were corrupt. What ought to be done with the ruined buildings was confusing. Shop-owners paid bribes to obtain favorable statements about the safety of the premises, which allowed them to stay open. House-owners paid bribes to obtain negative pronouncements so the tenants could be wrecked and municipal authorities had to intervene (The News 19850927). UNAM said the inspections of buildings could take up to one year. Tenants denounced that DDF's officers helped house-owners. The real extent of damages in water pipes had been concealed, sustained critical press articles (Excélsior 19850927). Hundreds of organizations engaged in damage assessments at both the federal and local level. Information was disperse and difficult to gather, and the agencies worked with their own, limited resources. Lack of coordination was visible and it took a long time to attain a definitive picture of the damages. In specific cases Ñfor example when it was believed that trapped people could be under the ruinsÑ engineers or architects participated. The actual amount of damage assessment of buildings that was carried out is unknown. However,one report states that there were a total of 7 924 studies made /.../ 613 evacuations of still standing buildings were ordered as well as the evacuation of an additional 99 buildings because of problems in neighboring structures (Dynes et al 1990: 54 Prices kept increasing: basic food was already 300 to 400% more expensive than before the quake; fruits and vegetables 200%; land prices and rents in the outskirts of the city were higher than before, and building materials 150% more expensive (Excélsior 19850930). The Intersecretarial Commission for Assistance to the Metropolitan Zone, changed name to Metropolitan Emergency Commission (MEC). Its goals

19 were, as before, to rescue victims and corpses and carry out partial or total demolitions (Excélsior 19850930). DF's vice attorney declared that investigations on building licenses had started. Most of the ruined houses had been built according to wrong calculations, with materials of low quality and in ignorance of the norms. Guilty constructors had to pay for the damages and, if necessary, they should fulfill prison penalties (Excélsior 19850930: l9A). On October 3, A DF-deputy announced that the Chamber would demand rigorous assessments of those irregularities and if necessary, severe sanctions had to be applied to the constructors. At the same time the only possible piece of evidence, the debris, had been removed. Lawyer Jesœs Zamora Pierce was of the opinion that the judges would not be able to demonstrate legal responsibilities (Mussachio 1986: 88) Both Emergency Commissions reported activities since the l9th. The number of volunteers in the streets was diminishing and the troops taking over. Instead of rebuilding ruined buildings downtown, parks and gardens would be created in their place (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 156). An official declared that despite the large disaster in Mexico it had not been necessary to pass laws of exception, and full social and human guarantees were preserved (El Sol de Cuernavaca 19850930: 2B). Since the 19th an officially organized service to search for persons ÑLOCATEL, Localizaci—n Telef—nicaÑ had received 30 100 calls making requests for missing people, detected 16 580 and registered 25 000 more (ExcÉlsior 19851001: 1Aff) The President forbade demolitions with explosives until the latest hope of survivors was confirmed. For the same cause the use of heavy machinery should be avoided (Monsiváis 1987: 37). Another new commission started, this one to analyze causes and effects of the quakes. Schools reopened in eight of the city's 16 boroughs (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 156). Aims of the new commission were to record material damages in the DF, to carry out studies about soil types and to create programs of civil defence (Terremotos 1986: 529). The Secretary of Planning and Budget, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, as he was then, presented a proposition to decentralize several official institutions. Some of them, as the Secretariat of Communications, were ready to move (El Sol de Cuernavaca 19850930, Terremotos 1986: 529). Two weeks after the quakes the situation was more stable and the emergency period faded away. At this time, the massive spontaneous response ceased. Large societal matters as housing recovery came into focus and the government published some directives about reconstruction. The concerns

20 which gained priority... ...included handling the massive convergence of aid that flowed into the city both from within the country and from foreign countries, the integration of foreign rescue teams into the ongoing and formal search and rescue effort, the development of plans for long term sheltering and housing, and the eventual issues related to reconstruction (Dynes et al 1990: 52)

The official intervention was judged as weak. The State engaged in the emergency only with its ordinary resources. They were seriously damaged. Most of the government's normal operating procedures suffered disruptions, and neither the various commissions nor the Plan DN III have been able to replace them (The News 19851015: 14). Anyhow the mobilized resources were extensive. After consulting a long row of sources, Ardekani and Hobeika pointed out among the resources deployed in the immediate aftermath 125 fire vehicles, 800 fire fighters, 15 300 policemen, 1 090 police auto patrols, 20 ambulance stations, 450 motorcycles, 105 tow trucks, 150 police jeeps, 31 police vans, 10 police helicopters, 850 pieces of heavy machinery and 1 500 light ones (1988: 109). The participation of soldiers and volunteers made the sum of deployed resources even higher. An intention to the background of naming the commissions were to bind labour unions, business, universities and other socially representative organizations with the tops of State bureaucracy and made they participate in the new organizations. In this way, a consensus was attempted. Nevertheless, the victims' own organizations were not convoked. In the three weeks following the quake the newly created agencies reached the surprisingly high figure of 28 organs. A newspaper commented: The reconstruction process, far from leading to a smaller role for the bureaucracy, has given birth to what some are already calling a "parallel government". The bureaucracy's favorite pastime Ñcommittee-namingÑ is being pursued with a passion. Three top-level "supercommissions", five legislative committees, at least three "work groups", three "support committees", six high-level reconstruction committees and four subcommittees, two funds and two "watchdog" commissions were named (The News 19851015: 14). The nearly unintelligible net of attributions and goals extended within this framework. Besides looking for consensus, it was a manifestation of both the great disaster and of the lack of administrative preparedness to cope with large

21 disasters, especially in Mexico City. For many observers, the enormous disruption in normality, weaknesses in planning and hastily designed coping mechanisms, created a situation of "power vacuum". Under the first four or five days this vacuum was filled by spontaneity. Both State and society were devoted to their ordinary undertakings stressing the emergency response but not more, and the really extraordinary measures attained poor practical outcomes. For example, tools and other very needed devices for rescues were never requisitioned or put to the disposition of volunteers. The rescuers themselves had to buy or borrow them, and this is what one can expect within normality. A different attitude from the authorities, attempting to bestow the first spontaneous Ñessential and largely outweighingÑ response would have been remarkable and exceptional. As a team of journalists expressed, the authorities ought to head and organize grassroots participation instead of obstructing it (ExcÉlsior 19850930: 7A). In fact, the voluntary participation met some official tepidity and it was at the same time both praised and condemned. Monsiváis asserted that the massive solidarity had actually been a kind of take over of power. It should have given expression to a civil society opposite to State and government (1987: 17). Carlos Rodr’guez Ajenjo, a Psychiatrist, stated that the disaster gave origin to a confusing process of awareness among the citizens, awareness about their own alienation, about what had been done with them and with the city. They gained awareness through their active participation in the emergency. Therefore the authorities did not fully entrust volunteers and forced an asquick-as-possible return to normality, that interrupted the former process. Otherwise, an increased awareness could grow about we bringing awareness about them, "the owners of the power, and about their project". Through the disaster, the citizens could feel a radical separation from the State. The State is a cultural expression of certain particular way of social development among other possible ways, and not a natural community as portrayed in its usual and illusory look (Rodr’guez Ajenjo 1986: 78). The President as spokesman for State and government, repeatedly said there was no opposition but collaboration between authorities and society. Beyond problems and shortages, it must be clear that coping with the catastrophe was everyone's task. The disaster put challenges to the future societal development that demanded common actions. "It was nature and not a deliberate act of man that hurt us."

22 The undertakings during the emergency showed our capacity for mobilization and vitality, and our spirit of solidarity. In the reconstruction process we must maintain this momentum. /The reconstruction/ is not a matter of trying to return to where we were, simply replacing what was destroyed, but to bring about changes that will benefit and strengthen the nation. /This/ requires great preventive measures and a better quality in urban growth to avoid a concentration of risks, recognizing committed past errors and correcting them with decision and responsibility (The President in The News 19851010). Both society and government had been overwhelmed by the disaster. The quake happened to a society with both good and bad features, which became more plentifully revealed than in a normal situation. /Within/ every group, civilian or official, victims or volunteers, the same contradictions were made evident. /In spite of some opinions/, volunteers and government acted in rescues together and not in confrontation /The/ manifested discontentment with the government /had/ undoubtedly justified points. /..Other complains/ were prolongation of the discontentment with the outcomes of the economic crisis. More other, effects of sorrow and frustration provoked by the disaster. Further other /were caused/ by the expectancies of change generated by one of the most intense collective experiences in the contemporary history of this country (Terremotos 1986: 531, 533). Emergency management in Mexico City was difficult because of the damages suffered by governmental agencies, as discussed before, and by lacking foreseen coping mechanisms. It took some three days to put the emergent commissions into action and an additional difficulty was to harmonize the complex relationship between federal and local power levels. More, the interorganizational linkages must be foreseen in advance, and it is also necessary to prearrange coping strategies and establish patterns of authority for coming disaster situations. Otherwise, as happened in Mexico, the response is delayed and poor in effectiveness. Other negative factors concerned damage assessment and early information collection, which were hindered by the diffuse spatial pattern of damages, its extent and degree of destruction, traffic hindrances, discoordination among authorities and a disrupted communication system without foreseen alternatives (Dynes et al 1990; 32). Most observers judged the authorities' coping efforts slow and disperse, lacking structures for both political and administrative participation. The new commissions' work "resulted foreseeablely insufficient", said an observer.

23 Confusing records and contradictory management "sharpened by itself already serious social problems of lack of credibility" (Arreola et al. 1986: 109). According to a survey from the Institute of Public Opinion, (October 30 1985), the citizens judged the government in following terms: * 56% of the interviewed were of the opinion that rescue actions had been late. * 57% said authorities had done lesser than expected. * 69% thought the spontaneous help had not been properly organized by the government. * 75% stated that the government had no preparedness to face emergencies. (Monsiváis 1987: 65).

The Plan DN III in practice

A few minutes after the quake, at 7:45 AM, the President gave instructions to the Secretariats of Government and of Defence, and to the Department of the DF to start emergency rescue actions. /Immediately/ the army's Plan DN III to Help the Civilian Population in Case of Disaster Ñcoordinated by DefenceÑ and the Emergency Plan SME III in charge of the Secretariat of Navy, were put into action. /More than 3800 soldiers, chiefs, officials and troops were involved/ Before starting with rescues and clearing up of the debris, 600 soldiers on motorbikes inspected the disaster zone to record a first inventory of damages. /Later, the number of troops increased to 8400, but since they were/ insufficient and the volunteers were diminishing, 8500 conscripts were incorporated too (Terremotos 1986: 496. 501). This is the official version of what happened immediately after the quake. As commented before, everybody did not agree that the application of Plan DN III was easy. Anyhow, there were troops in the streets short after the quake but the people did not see them as an obvious help. The military was indeed criticized. A spokesman from the Secretariat of Defence observed that "the army did not show a good image" (in Musacchio 1986: 69). The Mexican Red Cross declared that civilians Ñinstead of military personnelÑhad been in charge of rescues. Necessary coordination plans between organizations and the military were before the disaster under a mere preparatory stage. Military chiefs should have had the command of the

24 operations, which did not occur. The army did not put into action enough resources. In the few places where military personnel took the command, the rescues were "carried out with great effectivity /but/ in many other places those who gave orders were physicians or civilians without any experience" (Musacchio 1986: 83ff) A logical first step in a military intervention is perhaps surveillance Ñstated an observerÑ but afterwards "the sappers, the military engineers, the physicians, the field hospitals, the operative commanders, /in sum/ the whole apparatus ought to come. Nevertheless, nothing arrived. Why?" (Aguilar 1986:110). For Aguilar, whose analysis we are going to follow, the answer was as plain as daylight. Despite all official statements, the Plan DN III was never Ñor only partiallyÑ put into action in the DF. Several other sources confirmed this assertion. The Secretary of Defence emphatically declared "the Plan was put into practice 100 percent" (La Jornada 19851012, quoted in Monsiváis 1987: 105), but a deputy, Colonel Lieutenant Rodolfo Linares, stated at the Chamber "with indignation /that/ Plan DN III had not been applied in Mexico City /and therefore/ nothing could be said about /military/ failures or incompetence. All criticism against the army was not justified." (Aguilar 1986: 112). These statements from a member of the Commission of Defence of the parliament, were also commented in Monsiváis and other sources. An accurate analysis of what happened during the first hectic hours on September l9 proved that the confusing management to start official emergency actions mirrored the shortage of suitable legal dispositions to face a major disaster in Mexico City, but it also possessed important political causes. They are a good example of the low priority of disasters in the political world of normality, and therefore this is an interesting matter to be analyzed here. As stated by the Institute of Juridical Research (UNAM), the General Law of Population gave the Secretary of Government responsibility of coordinating public sector and private activities in case of exception, to face emergencies. (UNAM 1985: 142). In addition to this, the Organic Laws of the army, the navy and the air force said that these institutions should help the population and collaborate with civilian authorities in case of disaster (UNAM 1985: 142 and 143). Those principles made up the background of Plan DN III, but in it only one single possible form for this cooperation was contemplated. A collaboration under military command. Other forms of collaboration were thinkable, according to the spirit of the law. This did not mean that the Plan had legal force. On the contrary, the Plan had never been published in the

25 Official Gazette, and therefore had never attained legal status. It had rather the nature of an administrative document, "an internal administrative instrument which did not obligatorily engage every public institution that ought to participate in succors or rescues" (UNAM 1985: 143). The Plan was one among other possible ways of official response. According to Plan DN III, a Central Assistance Group had to take care of the situation in case of disasters of national scope. The legal attributions of the Secretary of Government Ñaccording to the General Law of PopulationÑ and the attributions of the Central Assistance Group heading the Plan DN III fall into contradiction. A civilian Secretary (Government) could not coordinate all activities while the military Secretary (Defence) is in charge of all execution and, as a consequence, in charge of all resources (Aguilar 1986: 105). /The Plan had been/ considered as the emergency plan of a single Secretariat, Defence, to be executed by itself without authority over other /Secretariats. In/ this way, far from solving the problem of the government, Plan DN III divided it internally and discoordinated it furthermore in the front of operation (Aguilar 1986: 107). The President himself headed the Central Assistance group, and the Secretaries of Defence and Government have in it presidential functions too. This is the knot of the Plan. The Executive President (Secretary of Defence) has the practical command, but the Substitute President (Secretary of Government) is also in charge of the application of the adopted measures, and this confusing arrangement opened the door for political strifes. To avoid the subordination of one of the two State Secretaries, a Substitute President Ñthe Secretary of GovernmentÑ became created, a solution "by all means unsuitable and not constitutional" (Aguilar 1986: 105). The Constitution did not foresee any Substitute President. Furthermore, a delegation of power could not take place in opposition to the executive authority of the Secretary of Defence. In other words, if the military are going to take over ambiguities were not admitted. Further, the subpresidents do not have well defined attributions, and when the President ordered the application of the Plan he triggered at the same time the detonator of interbureaucratic strifes (Aguilar 1986: 105ff). Unsolved legal conflicts entangled the adoption of emergency measures. A de facto-solution was the spontaneously generated National Emergency Commission. In it the Secretary of Government rested apparently in charge of this formal super coordinator (Aguilar 1986: 106). Indeed, the Plan did not foresee any commission at all.


The genesis of the National Commission is an example of the problems Mexican authorities had to face. A first solution was adopted in the cabinet meeting at 14:00 when the brand new Intersectorial Commission was named. The Mayor was the commission's coordinator, and one of the Subsecretaries of Government the Technical Coordination secretary, in charge of actions related to the whole country. So, the same commission had to do with the DF and with other Disaster Zones of National Range as, for example, the ruined Guzmán City in the state of Jalisco. On top of everything, the Secretaries of Defence and of Government, members of the Central Assistance Group in Plan DN III, were left outside any concrete placement in the new Commission (Aguilar 1986: 113ff ). The procedure did not solve the power conflicts. Several hours later, in the evening of the l9th, a press conference took place. In it without any explanation or rectification, the Secretary of Government appeared heading the Commission. The Mayor was shifted to another position. However, the next day, without further notice and in all circumstances, everybody began to talk about two commissions:The National Emergency Commission had emerged too. To keep the hierarchy safe, the Secretary of Government headed the new National Commission and the Secretary of Defence managed the federal resources derived to assist the DF. He was also a member of the Metropolitan Commission which, as a whole, was left in the hands of the DDF. In practical terms, the Metropolitan Commission was headed by the Mayor, who also headed all subcommissions and working groups. To achieve such complicated administrative arrangements lasted at least 24 hours. In the meantime, under the debris were alive thousand of citizens (Aguilar 1986: 115). The conflicts never reached the public light, anyhow, and the newspapers from September 20 did not take this noteworthy process into account, at least not accurately. The notice was drowned among information about damages and rescues. For the eyes of the public, the creation of two different commissions Ñthe one for the DF, the other one for the rest of the countryÑ made sense. In this way the Plan DN III gained force but at the same time civilian authorities kept the control of the actions, which had never been foreseen in this plan. As a comparison the application of Plan DN III in another disaster zone, the smaller Ciudad Guzmán, did not demand such confusing considerations. Guzmán had in 1985 about 100 000 inhabitants ) and the quakes affected 2500 families (Mac’as 1987: 113). The town is on a hill side, and damages could

27 not be the result of motion amplification in soft soil. Damages were considered exceptionally large. Maybe half of the housing stock Ñmostly single and double storey adobe housesÑ was made inhabitable by... ... eroded wall bases and the decay of embedded timbers, hidden behind well kept facades /...Generally/ the more modern brick and engineered structures survived well. All five churches were damaged to some extent and one completely collapsed killing twenty people (Hughes and Pappin 1986: 202) Proportionally, the disaster here was much worse than in Mexico City, though the figures of dead and injured were small. Officially recorded losses were 1212 ravaged buildings; 954 lesser damaged, and 1495 with light damages. Buildings in Guzmán were a total of 9304, and 3661 Ñ38%Ñ resulted affected (Terremotos 1986: 580 and 581). In Guzmán the morning of the first quake neighbors and local authorities cleared debris and recovered belongings. Officials helped by policemen tried to evacuate survivors to a shelter organized by the Church. Only one day later military personnel arrived to apply the Plan. They discussed during several hours the question with the officials in place. After the military taking over, some damaged houses were considered dangerous places (Mac’as 1987: 109, 110). The School of Nursing was commandeered for shelter, in disregard of the Principal's opinion, and also the School of Veterinary and two hospitals. From the School of Nursing, three hot meals a day were distributed to the other shelters, a service that afterwards would be extended to two neighbouring damaged towns. In the shelters, dissatisfaction about help distribution increased notoriously. The army chose not to be involved because this could result in political expressions, and limited its actions. Assistance in goods and administration rested with civilian authorities (Mac’as 1987: 116ff). On October 20 the Plan ceased, the emergency period finished and the civilian authorities took control of the city. Military officers considered the application of the plan a success. All authorities had been well co-ordinated. The plan, however, revealed large faults, mostly at the level of preventive actions. Several hours were spent in discussing possible places for shelters and visiting them. There were no previous knowledge about available resources. Army officers had to start with performing a census. Assistance actions then became delayed (Mac’as 1987: 116ff). The Plan foresees a good deal of preparation and previous knowledge. In Guzmán this had not been completed. Anyhow, one and a half day after the

28 first quake, shelters and mass feeding were adequately functioning. Military authorities kept a low-profile image and in Guzmán the plan worked well. If only Guzmán had been declared Disaster Zone, the Central Assistance Group would have played a more hidden role and top-level contradictions could not have been noticeable, but the political weight of Mexico City and the huge attention of both local and international mass media made a military take over impossible. It seems as the authorities had never imagined the Plan to be put into force in Mexico City. As Mac’as and other researchers commented, Plan DN III was suited for coping with disasters in isolated places with disperse population. In a large city, with subtle and highly developed networks of social relations, with hundreds of thousand people directly mobilized in rescues and several millions more collaborating with them, military control could have resulted in undesirable political reactions. While top-level problems were being solved, relatives, friends and neighbors of trapped victims came and were the first to start rescues. After them, but before the army, arrived the firemen, policemen, Red Cross personnel and volunteers. The tasks were commanded by "the most skillful, the most experienced, the boldest one, or the one who shouted loudest." (Aguilar 1986:110). Officials have not a privileged position. Some hours later the troops began to cordon off the ruined areas, which implied that the civil society became surrounded too. "At 10:00 on September l9 the application of Plan DN III was no longer a plain procedure". In many cases it brought a shock and a violent displacement of civil authority. Military personnel were aware of this and limited their action to control and protection. Further, "the militarization of relief should have refused the thesis of the government that, in spite of its magnitude, the tragedy did not /justify/ exception laws." (Aguilar 1986:113). It has been observed in many disasters that organizations Ñand officialsÑ are not prepared to integrate volunteers into their activities. In Mexico City the volunteers were often excluded or their cooperation was accepted but controlled. Overall coordination and cooperation lacked in the response but necessary things were done in an organized way, creating a positive social climate and developing a strong sense of social solidarity, Dynes asserted (1990: 70ff). Foreseen participative structures in the DF showed their lack of operative knowledge. The so called Block Committee, Neighbors' Junta, and the City's Consulting Council did not have any part to play during the disaster (Musacchio 1986: 90). The sole existence of theoretical emergency plans is not enough to manage a disaster and, despite Plan DN III...

29 /...there/ was neither overall not anything resembling community wide disaster planning in Mexico City. /In/ the absence of such planning, organizations struggled to cope with and meet the demands that surfaced in the emergency time period. While most needs were eventually met, the effort was marked by delays, uncertainties, overlaps, gaps, and was at best somewhat effective but certainly not efficient. many involved organizational officials not only recognized this situation in retrospect, but thought nonetheless something should be done to prepare for future disaster occasions (Dynes et al 1990: 72) My description of the intricate beginning of the official response has the intention to show the decisive weight of normal politics in the active world of disaster. The following conclusions recognize the importance of normality for emergency policies, and are a clear indication of the authorities' impotence: Anywhere, no one government could have been able to accomplish punctually everything, and it is undeniable that the Mexican government made large efforts. /Judgements/ should not be grounded upon illusory expectancies of perfection or unattainable efficacy (Aguilar 1986: 117).


Rehabilitation and Reconstruction We will reconstruct according to new norms of prevention and decentralization. The President 19850926 Reconstruction issues and decisions are value choices. Kates 1977: 265

Recovery in Mexico City is the content of this chapter. We are going to follow several processes of rehabilitation, focusing on different items, instead of on general issues. Those processes are graphically shown along time axes to discern the stages of restoration. The recovery of schools and hospitals represent how social services resumed after the quakes. The city's lifelines normalization is represented by the cases of telecommunications, transport, running water and electricity. As in other disasters, the recovery of lifelines was in some cases Ñthe telephone net, for exampleÑ utilized to improve the preexisting infrastructure. Socially the recovery of housing was the main endeavor and it implied large participation. This process in Mexico City has been subject to many studies and I present here only the general development of the different reconstruction programs. Other interesting social developments took place in Mexico City during this time, but are left outside the framework of this study Schools

Damages in schools were very large. A first appraisal on September 22 ascertained damage in 203 buildings (Calvo and Galván 1987: 49), but in the following days this figure increased quickly. So, on October 3 there were 1294 ruined schools recorded (çlvarez Icaza 1986: 158), and on January l6, 1986, the DDF officially reported damages in 1911 schools.(DDF 1986). Anyway, the Secretariat of Education stated in October that 1661 schools were ruined, but only 761 were public schools and 904 private ones (Terremotos 1986: 575). The Secretary all the time affirmed that the damaged schools were no more than 761 and all other quoted figures meant buildings under reparation or betterments, not damaged by the quakes.

31 Those 761 represented about 30 percent of a total 2552 public schools existing in the DF, besides 1044 officially authorized private schools. Most of the 1665 ruined buildings belonged to primary schools, that comprises six years of study (Terremotos 1986: 575). 134 secondary schools among Mexico City's 534, were ravaged too and therefore in bad condition (Calvo and Galván 1987: 49). The largest losses occurred in Delegaci—n Gustavo Madero. In Excélsior (19851030: 5A) it was said that 50 percent of all schools had damages. In this ward 370 public schools existed, according to the same source. In the report from DDF (1986) no less than 365 affected schools were in Gustavo A. Madero and nearly all schools suffered damages! According to DDF, 1911 damaged schools represented 33 percent of a total 5754 damaged buildings (DDF 1986). However, the MEC recorded 1294 damaged schools in a total 2708 ruined buildings, representing 48 percent. Finally, in October 1987 the DDF recorded more than 12 000 affected buildings of which 1687 were classified as "of educational uses", so the schools resulted at 13 percent of the total (Monsiváis 1987: 66). The first records, shortly after the quakes, mirrored perhaps the most notorious damaged buildings Ñschools among themÑ and the former included a much larger number of dwellings and were not considered in the weeks following the quakes. School activities were suspended immediately after the first quake until September 23, next Monday. But after the second tremor a new and longer interruption until Wednesday 25 was announced. Afterwards, this interruption was prolonged until the end of September. Finally, the schools reopened after evaluations of building safety. The authorities stipulated obligatory safety tests for reopening schools in the Metropolitan Zone. 350 inspections had been done already the first day, but the second quake annulled their validity. Afterwards, those obligatory assessments were transformed into voluntary inspections, if family-heads or school personal asked for it. The reason of this change was the high number of buildings to be tested, which demanded more experts and equipment than available. Otherwise, the inspections could take a very long time. Inspectors from different governmental services were in charge of this (Calvo and Galván 1987: 51ff). In terms of functionality 650 000 of 2 174 586 pupils in the DF had lost their schools (Calvo and Galván 1987: 49). There were pupils from nurseries, primary and secondary schools included. Apparently, technical, adult or university educational places lost, were not recorded. On September 30

32 activities started in undamaged buildings if water and electricity worked. Then most schools reopened in the eight delegaciones with scarce or no damages. Partially ravaged schools were allowed to operate after inspection. If the building was severely ruined, special emergency measures ought to be taken. In this way, since October 3, the schools reopened in four more delegaciones. In the other four heavily ruined boroughs activities gradually resumed under October. There were different alternatives to relocate 650 000 pupils as soon as possible. Private schools offered 160 000 places to be utilized in the evenings (Calvo and Galván 1987: 53ff). The Secretary of Education said on October 25 that there were still 518 000 children to be relocated in public and private schools and promised pre-fab classrooms, which had to be built. In fact, on October l8 the 650 000 displaced pupils had still not been placed. One week later 132 000 had gotten new school sites, and in the mid-November there were only 70 000 pupils without classrooms left, and one week later 14 015 pupils remained. Finally, on December 6 the Secretariat of Education informed that the 650 000 nursery, primary and secondary school pupils had received new places (Terremotos 1986: 576). Carlos Monsiváis stated that 24 000 pupils and 700 teachers Ñwithout further characteristicsÑ were permanently removed; while 50 000 pupils and 1500 more teachers moved temporarily, according to information from DDF in October 1987 (Monsiváis 1987: 66). Three months of efforts had been necessary to arrange 650 000 emergent educational places. Figure 5.1 describes this complex process.

DAMAGED Figure 5.1: Recovery of school places (According to Terremotos 1986)

To manage the provision of so many extra places the available school premises were utilized to a maximum. Enlarging existing school groups were the easiest solution, but also the following measures were put into practice: * Double use of buildings: two schools shared the same building, the one in the morning, the other one in the afternoon. * Shared time in occupying the same building: alternate days for two different schools, i e half the time for each one.

33 * Reduced lecture time to a half, which allowed two schools to share the same buildings. With such an arrangement there would be four different schools working in the same premises, two in the morning and two more in the afternoon.

Improvised classrooms for 2000 pupils operated in shelters or discarded buses, railway wagons, mobile classrooms and pre-fabs. Family homes functioned as emergent classrooms for 30 000 pupils. Since October 7 the pupils could follow their lessons by television until all the schools reopened, in the so called Television School. They had to do home-works and to keep them until further notice. A support-service by telephone was available. In some places, the teachers personally answered questions (Calvo and Galván 1987: 54ff). The Secretary of Education determined on October 29 that complementary lessons would be held on holidays, leisure time and vacations, but this measure was only announced. Instead, on December l, the same authority said that the program of study should be shortened. Complementary matters would drop off so the courses could be completed within the limits of the normal school year and not stretch to the vacations (Calvo and Galván l987: 57). In spite of all extraordinary arrangements, even in January there were pupils without places. The relocation had brought troubles with transport, and family heads. The safety assessments were not satisfactory and the attitude of many school headmasters, who wanted to start at once, made them disappointed too. This "quick-to-normality" policy was not accepted. Several denouncements about reopening of damaged schools in the outskirts of Mexico City were known (Calvo and Galván 1987: 65ff). The recovery of schools gained priority. On October 8, 1000 million pesos Ñthen about 2,5 million dollars (MD)Ñ from the National Reconstruction Fund were addressed to it. The same fund conferred other 15 MD in midDecember (Calvo and Galván 1987: 59). On the basis of that money the restoration started, and on October 2l there were reconstruction works in 117 buildings. One week later 287 schools more began to be repaired (Terremotos 1986: 577). Under November, 100 lesser damaged buildings were ready to be utilized, and there were 805 building sites operating. During the Christmas vacation 304 more schools were restored. New troubles occurred when in the reopened schools damages were discovered. For this reason it was stated in January that a totality of 1858 school buildings ought to be repaired (Excélsior 19860105:

34 4, and 198607: 11; Calvo and Galván 1987: 60, note 6 in page 106). On January l7 and according to the media, Calvo and Galván computed a total 1229 already repaired schools, among the 1858 to be reconstructed. Concrete arrangements to rebuild 752 schools more were then announced too (idem). The Secretary of Education kept saying that damaged schools were only 761. In other cases some repairs were necessary, but not because of the quake. Cisneros summed up that more than 1200 schools were repaired under the six months following the quake (Cisneros 1986). A spokesman for the government said in September 1987 that the number of rebuilt schools were 4276, and the provided "provisional educational premises" (?) had been 2550 more (La Jornada 19870920: 12). These were not specified, but this figure of rebuilt schools resulted indeed larger than the total public and private schools existing in the DF, according to the above quoted sources. Figure 5.2 shows the pace of recovery according to the achievements in reconstruction and the replacement of lost educational places.

DAMAGED Figure 5.2 Recovery of school buildings

Most criticism against emergent educational policy was related to the "quickto-normality" goals expressed in, for example, bad improvisations or neglected assessments. Television schools were considered an attempt to exercise propaganda rather than a suitable solution. Bureaucratic procedures resulted in "missing time, despair, frustration and impotence" among parents and teachers. To reopen unsafe school premises was a consequence of "irresponsibility and corruption". In some cases a "masking of damages instead of repairs" took place. Seriously carried expert assessments had shown Ñasserted some expertsÑ that "in Mexico, safety regulations had been abandoned to reduce building costs." (Calvo and Galván 1987: 97ff). The challenge had enormous proportions: 650 000 pupils lacked 1850 schools and constituted large and unexpected problems. Also here, improvisations were necessary. It seems as previous preparedness or emergency planning in the realm of education has not existed.To pass the school year was considered in the public debate as the most important thing for the pupils. A necessary discussion about faults and errors in the emergent educational measures was avoided (Calvo and Galván 1987: 97ff).


Health care

Victoria Novelo stated that medical care occurs at three levels. First, a basic level is covered by clinics and doctor offices where 80 to 85 percent of care problems are solved. Secondly, most of the remaining more serious cases are attended in hospitals, through surgery or other specialities. Thirdly, only 3 to 5 percent of diseases demanded very specialized and complex level of medical care (Novelo 1987: 18). Losses of bed places happen by consequence at the second and the third levels, and so were the losses recorded in Mexico. CEPAL recorded 500 ruined hospital buildings in Mexico City, most of them within big complexes (Novelo 1987: 18). So, in the National Medical Center, belonging to IMSS ) and considered the largest hospital complex in Latin America, 70 percent of all buildings were ruined and had to be demolished (Terremotos 1986: 574; Musacchio 1987: 67). Within this 70 percent were hospitals for oncology, traumatology, obstetrics, gynaecology and children (Monsiváis 1987: 28). IMSS' director Ricardo Garc’a Sáinz said this center was "serious and irreversibly damaged" and would be wholly demolished (Esto pasó1986: 119). This hospital complex counted 3265 beds and had to be totally evacuated. The General Hospital from the Secretariat of Health (SSA) with 1966 beds lost two complete wards and 1000 patient must be evacuated. At Juárez Hospital, also run by the SSA and with 566 beds, the central twelve storeys tower collapsed (Zeballos 1986: 142). The Secretary of Health, Guillermo Sober—n, said in the beginning of November that in the Valley of Mexico total lost bed places had been 3695 from a total 18 000 (Esto pasó1986: 119). Other official records sum more than 5400 lost bed places. A document from November l9 recorded 4387 definitively lost bed places in a total 17 406 (Terremotos 1986: 573). The way in recording definitively lost and lost but recoverable bed places Ñbetween 800 and 1000 (Esto pasó1986: 107)Ñ could explain the different appraisals. In spite of later records, Secretary Soberón said that lost beds were over 5000. When all available health resources were at the most necessary, a third of hospital capacity had suddenly disappeared. Thousands of injured or already admitted patients must be relocated. The next table present the number of lost hospital beds.

36 Table 5.1: Lost hospital bedplaces according to two sources In Novelo 1987: 2

In Terremotos 1986: 573


Level 3


Sec. Health











unspec unspec

626676 100

28% unspec





261 5

The quakes brought two questions into focus: Firstly, hospitals ought to be high safety areas in case of disaster, and secondly, strong geographical concentration of services could result in serious infrastructural damages, that can impede work (Novelo 1987: 22). An example of spatial concentration was the National Medical Center. Here there were about 2600 beds in 5 hospitals, 77 operating rooms, 76 X-ray installations and 61 laboratories for analysis (Novelo 1987: 19). Destruction was nearly complete. The General Hospital was a school hospital with 1900 beds and in it worked about 1000 physicians, 1850 nurses and 3500 other employees (Novelo 1987: 20). In Juรกrez Hospital, with 550 beds, problems due to structural damages and overloaded buildings had been known since several years ago, but nothing had been done. Denouncements about corruption when the hospitals had been built, accused the Secretary of Urban Development, Guillermo Carrillo Arena, who had passed the building plans when he had earlier worked as expert for the Secretary of Health (Novelo, Musacchio, Monsivรกis).

Lost % 745 of 4975 or 15% 2775 of 8197 or 34% 867 of 2427 or 36% 1807 4 187 of 17 406 or 25%

37 After the first moment of confusion, more than 600 ambulances, 844 clinics or minor health centers, and 110 hospitals in the DF prepared to join the emergency. Among the hospitals, there were 31 private institutions and units from the army and PEMEX, for example. The personnel in those institutions included more than 20 000 physicians and nearly 33 000 nurses (Zeballos 1986: 144). Help from private hospitals, and enlarged turns in the hospitals in function, constituted part of the response. The IMSS reinforced the personnel in non damaged buildings. A first appraisal of damages by the Secretary of Health stated a sum of 250 M$, and the time for reconstruction was calculated to be two years (Novelo 1987: 21). The number of available beds was increased through voluntary patient discharges, and discharging chronical or non-critical surgical patients. This resulted in enough to supply the needs without extra beds in corridors or other emergent locations. Nearly 90 percent of the people injured as a consequence of the quake demanded medical care under the first day. Of 3285 hospitalized patients, only 141 (17 percent) rested after the 1st October (Zeballos 1986: 144). From statistical records it was possible to infer that most injured patients were adults among 15 and 64 years old, and mortality was higher among children and the elderly. Further, and in accordance with former observations, more injures happened to people being indoors. The time of the first tremor probably influenced morbidity and mortality rates: most people were not yet in schools or working places Ñplaces which resulted in ruinsÑ but in the streets or indoors Multiple traumas affected nearly half of recorded hospitalized patients, fractures to a 15 percent and contusions to some ten percent. In outpatient records contusions affected a third, wounds and multiple traumas another third, and fractures a ten percent more. Psychological traumas were another cause for seeking medical care (Sánchez-Carrillo 1989: 483ff). On September 25, 6500 injured victims, despite destruction and losses, had got attention in hospitals (Terremotos 1986: 519). No global information about victims in collapsed hospitals are known, only partial records. For example, 46 physicians and 297 patients died in the General Hospital. Several sources pointed out that between 500 and 1200 people died in Juˆrez Hospital (Novelo 1987: 24). Zeballos refers to official sources where it was stated that on September 30 107 persons and 245 corpses had been rescued from the rubble at the General Hospital, and 191 persons and 106 corpses at Juárez Hospital (1986: 142). 12 000 students of different

38 medical specialities missed their study places, said the Medical Society, and the Rector for the Medicine Faculty (UNAM) said that the affected students and teachers were 26 000 (Novelo 1987: 24 ff). Towards the end of September the reconstruction started. Plans were very radical. Both Juárez and General hospitals would close definitively; the Medical Center would be demolished and four small speciality hospitals were going to be built instead. Several thousand bed places would move to the provinces and other thousands placed in a retentive ring around Mexico City to receive patients from the Valley (Novelo 1987: 26). The medical community opposed the spirit behind those plans. The General Hospital Ñthe country's largest hospital for poor peopleÑ could reopen, stated 6000 physicians, medicine students and administrative employees (Rodr’guez 1986: 32). Improvised consulting started beside the ruins on October l7, as a protest measure (Terremotos 1986: 567). Though damaged, 48 of 50 buildings could be recovered. Water and electricity had been working when the Secretary of Health ordered the closure of this hospital. The rehabilitation would cost 160 M$, and the state could not afford it, said the authorities. The personnel, on the contrary, argued that the hospital could be reconditioned by investing only 5,5 M$ and 1600 bed places would in this way be restored (Esto pasó1986: 112 and 114). Common sense won over ambitious plans, and a special reconstruction commission, backed by the President, started working on October 2l. One week later, after 40 days of inactivity, the General Hospital reopened. Its total recovery was going to take some 90 days, informed the SSA then. Work started again in some already patched premises in Juárez Hospital too. The total recovery of hospital capacity would take about 20 months (Terremotos 1986: 569, 570). Researcher Magdalena Rodr’guez maintained that in reconstruction plans the majority's need was not the focus but considerations on decentralization and of services. From this viewpoint, official statements and real needs appeared in strong contrast (Rodr’guez 1987: 34, 35). Next figure presents the recovery of hospital beds.

DAMAGED Figure 5:3: Recovery of hospital beds. Within the National Reconstruction Commission was named on October l5 a

39 Health Coordinator. His aims were recovery and reorganization of health services, attempting to decentralize and to improve quality and quantity (Terremotos 1986: 574). The reopened General Hospital ought to be reconstructed at latest during 1988, stated SSA on November 20. The National Reconstruction Fund, donors and international loans, would provide the capital for doing it (Terremotos 1986: 575). According to official statements more than 20 000 hospital beds were available in the Valley in 1987, ie many more than before the quakes (La Jornada 19870920: 12). 10 500 physicians lost their work places, and by the end of October had still not been relocated. In spite of announced proposals of relocation, 10 000 workers with short-term employment were dismissed. 6000 of 11 700 nonspecialized workers from the destroyed Medical Center were relocated within the Valley or in the provinces. Such relocations brought about problems in housing and demanded familiar adaptations, that the workers themselves must manage (Novelo 1987: 23). Anyhow, authorities and unions offered some help for moving voluntarily out of the DF. Telecommunications

As an outcome of the earthquakes, Mexico City was for some days an isolated place. Telecommunications were harmed and in some cases, as with telephones, ruined. The recovery demanded the installation of a new telephone net in the capital. Observers said that large damages were partially due to concentration. From a single telephone exchange in downtown Mexico most of the country's traffic was controlled. Two main communication complexes in TELMEX Ñthe state-owned telephone companyÑ resulted totally ruined; five more buildings partially destroyed; 15 secondary exchanges were affected, and a micro-wave tower collapsed. The building that housed the city's international operators was ravaged. Within Mexico City, 14 500 lines resulted as totally out of function (Excélsior 19851011: l8A). "One industry expert working with the Swedish Teleindustria Ericsson company said only five of the capital's 55 000 telephone circuits were undamaged by the quake", commented The News (19850927: 8), and Mexico City's telephone net was considered the worst damaged even in the world (Monsiváis 1987: 67). Among the telephone operators in service at the moment of the tremor, 10

40 died, 11 were injured, and 29 missing (Poniatowska 1988: 41). Besides the human losses, a total of 26 buildings, 13 maintenance offices and 4 branchoffices were damaged. Further economic losses depended on falls in incomes for interrupted services. Four thousand employees had to be relocated and "it will take at least 52 weeks to completely restore telephone services", said Francisco Hernández Juárez, head of TELMEX' labour union (The News 19851011: 8). The country's network of communication systems Ñtelex, telegraph and telephonesÑ was after the quake operating in only 64 of a total of 171 cities, i e 37 percent of its capacity (Camarena 1986a 41). Fastest was the recovery of telex, telegraph and radio, nearly all normally working two days after the first quake (Excélsior 19850923: 45).

41 To make communications easier, a message service in coordination with Mexican radio hams "for those who want to send a few words of reassurance to relatives" was arranged by the Secretariat of Communications, and free of charge (The News 19850923: 8). Truly the 1820 licensed radio hams participated in this activity (Poniatowska 1988: 42), or at least 500 of them, for other sources (UnoMรกsUno 19851005). With the same intention of improving communications, the 12 000 telephone boxes in Mexico City were free of charge for some days since September 2l (Alvarez Icaza 1986: 152). Both national and international travellers, and the airlines, were requested to deliver messages in their destinations (The News 19850923: 7). The recovery of telephones took a long time. On September 29, MEC estimated 99 percent of services worked in Mexico City. Within the country, services were in function at 60 percent; for calls from abroad at 47 percent, and to abroad at 16 percent (Musacchio 1986: 81). On October 5, TELMEX published new figures. Telephone traffic North-South in Mexico operated 44 percent; 16 percent of the services to the US and Canada, and so 9 percent of the calls to the rest of the world. Automatic calls from the capital to all the country worked at 68 percent, and 47 percent of incoming calls could be received. Service by telephone operators within the country ran at 21 percent of the normal capacity (UnoMรกsUno 19851005). Figure 5.4. shows the pace of recovery.


Figure 5.4: Recovery of telecommunications The collapse was so large that strategic considerations led the US to send emergency equipment to Mexico already the same day of the quake, it was then commented in the media. Reconstruction of telephones brought enlargements and betterments. On September l9, 1987, it was stated that service capacity increased at 70 percent and with updated equipment (La Jornada 19870920: 12).

42 Transports

Several factors contributed to increase transport difficulties. Suspended electricity supplies affected the subway, the trolley-buses, the trams and the traffic lights. Central streets were blocked by debris and rescuers, and many buses and collective cabs were redirected to emergency tasks. Coordination of activities in transports was nearly impossible. Several public offices in the area of communications were ruined (Camarena 1986a: 40ff). The recovery of transport capacity was geared to reestablish street movement and to restore the functionality of the city's transport system. Regarding street practicability Ardekani and Hobeika summed: "The earthquake wiped out approximately 70 percent of the city's central transportation network." The causes of lost capacity were mainly five: * Blockages caused by debris from structures collapsing into the streets. * Blockages compounded by debris from collapsed buildings stores in the streets as search, rescue, demolition and clean-up efforts progressed. * The cordons used to minimize the threat from near-collapse structures and to facilitate rescues and heavy machinery assembly* The gathering of crowds, volunteers relatives of victims, onlookers. * A number of massive gridlocks in the hours following the earthquake

Disturbances in the central Mexico City affected 10,7 km of access-controlled free ways,19 km of two-way avenues and 68,9 km of ejes viales, broad oneway streets with five or more circulation lanes (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 109ff) The first planned measure after the earthquake was aimed at surveying damages and accessibility. An inventory of the status of the street links was completed on September 20. Police patrols and helicopters gathered data at a logistic headquarter. The incoming data were plotted in a map. A first appraisal was 30 percent of reduction in traffic capacity. Every morning in the following days a coordination meeting was held with representatives from the army, public works and the Mayor's office. The public was informed through newspapers and government radio and television. Police patrols received the latest information and provided it to the public. It was informed that by Monday, September 23, public travel activities could resume, but only the most necessary (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 109ff). However, on the morning of the quake the city experienced serious traffic difficulties. Mexico City has a computerized traffic control center, but

43 damages rendered the system inoperable. When peak-hour traffic tried as usual to take the thoroughfares in the central zone, these through-links had been transformed by blockages in cul-de-sacs. Lack of information and of quickly implementable plans for alternative traffic ways, and lack of enforcement due to a wrong appreciation of damages resulted in chaos. In the following days, efforts were made to reduce the number of cordons to allow the traffic to flow, and to improve accessibility. A massive police intervention under the first two days, with collaboration of the army and volunteers, managed the traffic until the failure of signals were restored. Diversion plans were adopted and their implementation demanded changes in the direction of one-way streets and the confection of special signs and devices. To speed up the recovery process, trucks transporting debris had to follow specially designed paths (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 109ff) The mass transport in Mexico City is mainly served by buses, trolleys, trams and the Metro. Damages caused major disruptions in the surface traffic, but only short interruptions in the subway. The Metro, backbone of Mexico City's transport system, was working again in some lines three hours, and in other cases two days after the first quake. Interrupted services depended on the lack of electricity but also on reparation works on rails and stations. Until September 24 the service was gratis (Camarena 1986a: 42). Some stations were nevertheless closed in periods for different reasons, but damage in them was scarce. Clearing of debris, new tremors, and prevention of collapses by avoiding circulation of trains caused partial stops in 32 of the existing 101 stations (Monsivรกis 1987: 66). To adapt bus traffic to the emergency included route and schedule changes. The buses, for example, reinforced subway services. A new category of travel demands was the consequence of the disaster such as trips to shelters, relief centers, first-aid stations, incident nodes and information centers in searching for missing people. Additional demand for buses were put by additional lines instead of temporarily suspended Metro services, or transport of victims, belongings and relief supplies. In this context, the adaptation was favored since DDF operated all bus lines (Ardekani and Hobeika 1988: 116ff). Of 220 bus lines, 40 percent were out of function (Monsivรกis 1987: 60). Bus transports were free of charge until September 24. During the first days some alternative routes were traced out through the worst affected zones (Camarena 1986a: 43). 150 buses considered by the authorities as "kidnapped by rescuers" returned to the bus company on September 23 (The News

44 19850924). Indeed, of the 6200 buses existing in the city, 1500 were assigned to emergency tasks. The longest interruption in transport services took place in three of the thirteen tram routes, which stopped until the end of the year (Salinas 1987: 168). Clearing of debris in the streets started on September 22. On a couple of days important avenues reopened in downtown (Camarena 1986a: 42). Other main streets were practicable at 60 to 100 percent on September 26 (Excélsior 19850926). Worst blocked central streets were likely to be viable in about one week ahead (Excélsior 19850927). Nevertheless, on October l, 100 streets were closed in central neighborhoods. Some avenues earlier considered clean were at this date reported as partially affected (Excélsior 19851001). Conflicts between traffic and rescues arose in downtown. Heavy machines as cranes and bulldozers could not move in the half-blocked streets with the chaotic circulation of vehicles. The intention of quickly reopening the central avenues brought a disregard of risks, and cars started to circulate despite the many ready-to-crumble buildings along the streets. The normally riskable street traffic became worse. Vibrations from passing vehicles could be the cause of new building collapses. Furthermore, traffic noise made it difficult to listen to possible survivors trapped in the ruins (Excélsior 19850926). Such was the situation one week after the quakes. In the beginning of October rescuers and municipal workers discussed whether the rubble and the ruins should stay to go on with rescues, or if they should be removed to allow travel. About 400 machines were then working in rescues (Excélsior 19850927, and 19851001). The quake had produced 450 000 cubic meters of debris, of which 300 000 still lay around to October ll. By the end of the month these masses should have been removed. A first sign of normalization was the restart of works in new subway lines on October ll (Excélsior 19851001). Airports and railways were not noteworthily affected by the quakes. In Benito Juárez airport, Mexico City's airport, some light damages were repaired on l9 September. A few flights became suspended; some other delayed or directed to other airports. Loads with help gained special priority (Camarena 1986a: 41 and 42). 5000 employees denounced the main railway offices as unsafe. Their

45 observations were disregarded, and the work went on. Trains with food supplies and with aid in goods from the US' border got preference. In provinces, some damages in rail tracks were recorded (Excélsior 19850926: 2lA).


Figure 5.5: Recovery of transports Among other consequences, difficulties for traffic brought less supplies of all kind of goods, caused losses of perishable products and interrupted some industrial processes. Further, the communication belonging to these activities was broken. Indirectly, the traffic through Mexico City's five entrances Ñthree of them following the old causewaysÑ were jammed, and it was of course suspended downtown. This caused big trouble because there are only three outlets throughout the whole town. Nearly all the population of the city suffered by traffic problems: 86 percent of persons who travel daily depend on 3 percent of all the city's vehicles, namely the ones in public traffic (Camarena 1986b: 250 ff).

Drinkable water

The total consumption of water in the metropolis was before the quakes 68 m3 per second, of which 69 percent (47 m3) was used in urbanizations, 7,5 percent (5 m3) in industries, and 23 percent (16 m3) in agriculture. While the inhabitants in residential zones use 500 liters a day, there were 3 000 000 people without running water. About 25 percent of all water seep out because of leaks in the pipes (Carab’as and Herrera 1986: 63, 64). The supply within and outside the disaster area was about 20 percent of normal volume (Gutiérrez 1989: 74). Water mains became seriously damaged, mostly in the northern and eastern sectors, and partially in the southern part of the city. Shortage in volume was 7,6 m3/s, as the Emergency Commission informed on October l9. According to the Bureau of Waterworks (DDF) normal supply in the Federal district was

46 30 m3/s and it dropped to 22,2 m3/s after the quake. According to this source, the lack of 7,6 m3/s considered only the supplies to the DF (Zeballos 1986: 146). The MEC report recorded 80 leaks in main pipes and 1419 more in the secondary distribution net. One month after the quake 2035 breaks hade been repaired, and the services worked then at 95 percent. Between September l9 and October 19, 1734 liter/second were led to the city from the Valley. A report from DDF dated December recorded 167 repaired fractures in trunk pipes, and 7220 in minor pipes. Desperate people seeking water caused many ruptures. Some damages in sewage were recorded too, but they had minor effects and would be repaired later (Terremotos 1986: 571ff). DDF's spokesman Romero Pérez said on September 26 that 2 000 000 people were without water (The News 19850926), but those suffering shortages totalled 6 000 000 (Excélsior 19850927). Total figures were of course rough approximations but if we consider that the delegaciones lacking water had a population of around seven of DF's 15 million inhabitants, the scarcity of water was even worse than stated. Further, the shortages concerned not only the Federal District but also urbanized zones in the State of Mexico, as Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl (2 000 000 inhabitants). In Chalco, a poor neighborhood southeast of Mexico City and without services of running water, 300 000 people lost their usual supply since September l9, because the pipe trucks had been sent to the DF (Excélsior 19850930). Mostly struck were people in Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juárez, Gustavo A. Madero, Vemustiano Carranza, Iztacalco, Coyoacán, Iztapalapa, Xochimilco and Tláhuac. Table 5.2. illustrates the shortages affecting them, and the first accomplished recovery.

47 Table 5.2: Shortages of water supplies (According to Zeballos 1986: 148)

Level of service Delegaciones Coyoacán Benito Juárez Cuauhtémoc G. A. Madero Xochimilco Tláhuac Ixtapalapa V. Carranza Ixtacalco

September 20 70% 80% 15% 75% 30% 0 0 15% 20%

September 30 85% 80% 15% 80% 65% 50% 50% 40% 60%

DDF's official Sergio Moreno said on October 2 that 50 percent of the service was normal, 25 percent worked in shifts, and pipe trucks, stationary deposits, and distribution of bottled water accomplished the other 25 percent. The same official declared on October 8 that 4 500 000 people still suffered water shortages (Esto pasó1986: 107). Around this period, in 10 delegaciones the supply was at 80 percent normal, and in the other six wards of the DF it was 30 to 95 percent of normal volume (Excélsior 19851011: 44A). A total 465 pipe trucks, of which 321 came from provinces, supplied water in the emergency (Terremotos 1986: 572). Corrupt truck drivers demanded bribes to deliver the water. Inequalities in distribution Ñfavouring politicians and rich peopleÑ were denounced. Drinkable water reached speculation prices (Monsiváis 1987). A DDF official reported that 5,3 m3/s from lacking 7,6 m3/s, had been recovered since September l9 until October ll. Around October l5 the damages in water mains would be nearly fully repaired, and to attain total recovery would last for about one or two months more (Excélsior 19851011: 44A). Reconstruction had advanced on October 5 and 42 of 83 recorded leaks in the mains were already repaired, and so with 714 of 1280 leaks in the secondary distribution net (UnoMásUno 19851005). DAMAGED Figure 5.6: Restoration of water services


In general, the largest damages were repaired in some 10 days, but the water was unsafe to drink for about two months (Camarena 1986a: 42). In the First Forum of Victims, held on October 24, the victims' own organizations demanded the full restitution of water supplies (Esto pasó1986: 115). On October 30 the supply reached the same volume as before the quakes (Terremotos 1986: 571). To completely recover the pipe net took till the end of November.


Most of the city had electricity again at 11 o'clock on September 20 (Camarena 1986a; 41). MEC reported that 150 000 of 3 200 000 customers (4,7 percent) lacked fluid on September 23, but they got full service by October ll (Excélsior 19851011: 44A). 35 000 buildings Ñand not customersÑ were still without the service on September 26 (Excélsior 19850926). Another MEC report stated large destruction in the system for distribution of electricity: 8 high-tension stations, 1300 transformers, 700 cable poles, 4 km trunk cables, and 20 km of the secondary cable net, among other installations, had suffered damages (Excélsior 19851011: 44A). Under the first week of October the President demanded in a public speech more haste in recovering services (Esto pas" 1986: 106). Nevertheless, three weeks later the First Forum of Victims again demanded complete restoration of electricity supplies (Esto pas" 1986: 115). In global terms, the DDF estimated shortages to about 60 percent (Monsiváis 1987: 66). 20 percent of total services could not be recovered until two weeks after the quakes, ie around the beginning of October (Domínguez and Zepeda 1986: 268). Figure 5.7 shows the recovery of electricity supplies.

DAMAGED Figure 5.7: Restoration of electricity supplies


Emergency housing programs The recovery of housing lasted more than three years in Mexico, and among its outcomes was an important betterment in living standards. Different programs attempted to solve two main questions, namely 100 000 lacking dwellings and very irregular conditions of property in the old central Mexico City. Victims’ organizations were accepted after a long struggle as partners in some reconstruction programs. The social climate in which reconstruction policy started was full of “uncertainty, disconcert, tensions and movement.” (Massolo 1986: 201). The main social and political conflict derived from the quakes concentrated on housing, embracing urban issues and specific questions. The organizations of refugees strived for collective responses, mutual aid and negotiations. The government directed the responses to specific problems and organizations, trying to lower the level of conflicts and claims (Massolo 1986: 201). The refugees were many and they had diverse housing needs, so the reconstruction plans must take all that into account. In the present analysis social aspects derived from the process of recovery are excluded from deeper consideration . Housing reconstruction started in Mexico City in October and the development of two programs served more than 500 000 people. These programs were the Emergency Dwelling program, with four subprograms, and the Popular Dwelling Renovation (RHP) program. According to the Department of the Federal District (DDF) 56 percent of 5754 recorded real properties with damaged buildings belonged to the borough of Cuauhtémoc. In 2773 of those propertiesó65 percentówere dwellings (DDF 19860116). The final appraisal of damaged buildings included more than 100 000 ruined dwellings (Monsiváis 1987: 66). 55,7 percent of the active labour force in Cuauhtémoc worked with services, most of them were street vendors. Their work depended on the intense market life in the downtown streets, and upon selling services to formal sector’s employees. Their incomes were therefore closely related to the possibility of living in the city (Ziccardi 1986: 128, 129). In Cuauhtémoc people with higher incomes resided. Clerks or bureaucrats owned or rented dwellings in building complexes as Tlatelolco or Multifamiliar Juárez. The State had built these complexes, and they became seriously ravaged by the quakes (Ziccardi 1986: 129). The employees, with higher incomes and who were not so tightly bound to the place had more

50 possibilities of finding new dwellings but the situation on the dwelling market was worsening. The sudden lack of dwellings and the increased demand made rents rise 100 percent between September and December 1985, as appraised by the Federal Attorney for Consumers (L"pez-Verduzco 186: 26). The above referred study of Guillermo Boils pointed out similar increments in rent prices. We have already referred to the vulnerability of old houses in central Mexico City. Many lost dwellings lay in blocks of flats, but the main part belonged to vecindades, the old private-owned buildings with small dwellings for rent, collective services and very low standard, rather common in the old town. Numerous ruined buildings were subject to fixed rent according to a law from 1942 which reduced their rental value and contributed further to their deterioration (Gamboa, Introduction). A rent freeze originally benefitted 710 000 people in 113 205 homes, but this caused a total lack of maintenance. The extremely low rents caused black market trade with such dwellings (Bataillon and Rivière 1979: 106, 107). The vecindades were formally left outside the normal rent market. Usual contradictions between tenants and owners sharpened with the quakes, and the authorities had to intervene (Hedberg 1989: 31ff). Vecindades neighbors were very rooted and well-organized. Their long struggle to improve living conditions culminated after the quakes in the creation of unions and committees, and finally, in the Single Earthquake Refugees' Coordination (CUD) in October 1985 (Ziccardi 1986: 132). Normally the Mexican housing sector was not free from trouble. Low rentability in the building industry and low dwelling rents reduced private investments in construction since the 50's. The State and the social organizations built the majority of the newly produced dwellings in recent decades. Several building funds were carrying out dwelling programs, but their participation in the market was scarce, and the people included in the plans had to be backed by labour unions and earn regular incomes. Other funds offered loans to people with lower or irregular incomes, mostly for renewal, betterments or self-construction. 70 percent of all population could have been able to get loans from such funds, but less than 10 percent of the state's building investments for 1985 and 1986 were made through them. More than half of the granted loans were assigned to buy already built dwellings (Hedberg 1989: 31ff).Insufficiency of cheaper housing led to spontaneous settlements in the outskirts of the city. The disaster caused housing losses for 563,4 M$, appraised by CEPAL with conservative criteria (Galindo 1985: 51) and leaving out the price of possible

51 purchases of land for new buildings (Ziccardi 1986: 39). To meet this challenge the victims founded COPOSORE on September 25 (Hallberg 1989: 99). Most of the damaged dwellings were rented, because the majority of rented homes in the DF were settled in the worst affected zones, as Table 5.3 indicates. Table 5.3: Percentage of rented dwellings (Adapted from Hedberg 1986: 32) Rented homes More than 61% 41 to 60% 21 to 40%


Miguel Hidalgo, Cuauhtémoc Azcapotzalco, V. Carranza, B. Juárez Cuajimalpa, A. Obregón, M. Contreras, G.A. Madero, Iztacalco, Iztapalapa,Xochimilco

COPOSORE published a minimal platform in opposition to evacuations and evictions in ruined areas, claiming a new rent freeze and expropriations to allow reconstruction. COPOSORE opened an independent bank account to collect donations for the recovery of housing (Ramírez Sáiz 1986: 47). CUD which was founded some weeks later, maintained similar points of view (Hallberg 1989: 99). A National Reconstruction Commission (NRC) started on October 3 aiming to enjoin initiatives from the public, social and private sectors. It included Secretaries and top-people from education, business and labour unions but no representatives from the victims’ organizations. On October l4, a Coordination for Housing within the Committee for Social Help —belonging to the NRCówas initiated. On October l a Reconstruction Commission for the DF was created and the two official instances for reconstruction of dwellings formally commenced to work (Ziccardi 1986: 161). The recovery programs expressed concrete policies for reconstruction and they were coordinated by different authorities. ). The Secretariat of Urban Development (SEDUE) handled the coordination of the PEV, that mainly aimed to serve people with regular incomes and included three sub-programs: PEV-Phases I and II;

52 Democratic Reconstruction of Tlatelolco; and private reconstruction. RHP, on the contrary, was a single program of a specially created agency.

53 PEV-Phase I

PEV-Phase I, under coordination of SEDUE and DDF, started on October l. It aimed to solve housing problems for tenants in both private- and state-owned blocks of flats, as Multifamiliar Juárez and Tlatelolco. Tlatelolco's residents were later included in an own program (Mécatl et al. 1987: 29). PEV-phase I did not comprise construction plans but instead the redistribution of already built dwellings belonging to several housing funds. In December 1986, 8629 units and 7449 loans to purchase dwellings had been signed: 13 585 former private tenants, 1726 families from Tlatelolco, and 766 from Juárez complex solved their housing through this program. A total of 16 077 cases were served (Mécatl et al. 1987: 30). SEDUE’s Secretary announced that 16 332 families benefitted from PEVPhase I (La Jornada 19870915: 32). Most of them —70 percentólived in the borough of Cuauhtémoc, which revealed the magnitude and the spatial concentration of the disaster. To accomplish the program administrative structures were obliged to change routines and to adapt the usual procedures to face new problems (Mécatl et al. 1987: 30ff). The dwellings redistributed by PEV-Phase I were in many cases located at the outskirts of the Metropolitan Zone, but the victims wanted to keep living in the city and many considered a move out undesirable. Tax and administrative exemptions lowered the cost of the new dwellings: it was 15 percent under the real market price (Ziccardi 1986: 164ff). Tlatelolco's Democratic Reconstruction

Tlatelolco's Democratic Reconstruction was a special program for this urban complex, considered the largest and most densely populated neighborhood in Latin America: 100 000 people lived in an area of one square kilometer (Hedberg 1989: 41). Damages in the tall buildings were widespread, despite that the blocks had been built in the 60's. Planned originally as flats to be rented, several dwellings became owned as condominiums. Some of the houses presented large maintenance problems, with unsafe foundations and low quality. The residents had undertaken a tough battle with the authorities because of the failures. The old and extended discontentment led to prolonged discussions after the quakes, which delayed Tlatelolco's recovery for six months. There were no easy agreements. The State who owned the buildings

54 was from the beginning made responsible for collapse (Hedberg 1989: 42, 43). Negotiations were also difficult because different State funds owned some of the houses, others were owned in condominiums, and another 700 families lived in rooms on the roofs or in parking areas, outside normal rent conditions (Mécatl et al. 1987: 47, note 11). The long organizative tradition in Tlatelolco began in 1974 and culminated after the quakes with the foundation of the Single Earthquake Refugees' Coordination of Tlatelolco, CUT, principal counterpart to negotiate with authorities. On February l9, 1986, a change in the situation occurred when the then Secretary of SEDUE was replaced which the victims interpreted as a positive token. New discussions brought about a definitive reconstruction program and was stated on March l4, 1986 (Mécatl et al. 1987: 44ff). This program developed during 15 months, until September 1988, and benefitted 10 620 families. It was possible to patch 6346 flats considered to have lesser damages, and 4214 had to be reconstructed (La Jornada 19870919: 3). Statements from April 1986 affirmed that the program was fulfilled to 31 percent (La Jornada 19870919: 3). In the beginning of 1987, 4146 light damaged dwellings had been reconditioned. This figure increased to 4527 on March 3l (Mecatl et al. 1987: 52). Another 6346 flats were rebuilt on September l, 1987 (La Jornada 19870919: 3). Further, 92 percent of 4214 seriously ruined dwellings got new foundations, and 63 percent of them were already completely rebuilt (La Jornada 19870919: 3). Insurances covered 25 percent of building costs and the government addressed funds for the remaining 75 percent (Mécatl et al. 1987: 48). The reconstruction demanded emergency housing for 1473 families and 189 stores. It also brought changes in the former buildings. In 9 blocks the height was reduced from 14 to 7 or 10 storeys, depending on damages. Special dispositions were taken in the case of the collapsed Nuevo Leon-block, to allow the fulfillment of an inquest about responsibilities. The demolition of the ruins was not decided until August 24, 1986 (Mécatl et al. 1987: 50ff). The final achievements in Tlatelolce comprised 8 demolished blocks, structural reconstruction of another 32 blocks and repairs in the remaining 60 blocks (Mécatl et al. 1987: 49). Cuauhtémoc Abarca, head of CUT, said that 1500 flats had been left outside all planning because the owner —one of the State's fundsówas putting pressure on the tenants making them buy the apartments and taking care of repairs themselves (La Jornada 19870919: 3). Tlatelolco severely put to the test the relationship between the state as houseowner and its tenants (Mécatl et al. 1987: 53).


Private Reconstruction

Private Reconstruction was concerted among authorities, victims and different private donors, i e non-governamental organizations (NGO). The development of private programs started on March 20, 1986. One year later 2437 dwellings had been delivered, but these were considered within the frame of RHP. In January 1987, 1984 dwellings had been directly assigned to victims and another 1467 were under construction. Since September 9, 1986, some of the NGOs involved became engaged in PEV-Phase II. It is difficult to tabulate the private reconstruction achievements, because the sources are from the different organizations. Nevertheless, the NGOs should have been in charge of another 4000 dwellings (MĂŠcatl et al. 1987: 89 ff). Among many other participating NGOs this program involved the Red Cross, the Church and the Rotary Club (La Jornada 19870919: 4). PEV-phase II

PEV-phase II was tailored for homeless outside all other reconstruction programs. Hedberg mentioned the football World Cup as one of the causes to its origin: world's press payed attention to Mexico and its problems. A survey about shortages in dwellings started in the fall of 1986, which served as a base to design the program. Everyone who considered her/his home damaged by the quakes, whose property had not been expropriated, and who had not gotten dwellings or loans through some of the other programs, could be admitted in PEV-Phase II. In November 1986 the program registered 60 000 inscriptions from refugee families. The aspirants were too many, and therefore in May 1987 the authorities limited the program to 12 000 dwellings. Various refusals depended on the impossibility to demonstrate that the ruined houses had really been damaged by the quakes, and not by other causes (Hedberg 1989: 50). This situation was not privative for Mexico. When the previous housing situation is unsatisfactory people suffering under it consider themselves as “perpetual refugees� and try to be included in emergent dwelling programs. An example from this could be picked out from Geipel 1979.

56 PEV-Phase II presented additional difficulties to be developed. After the land expropriations necessary to RHP national and international pressures made more expropriations politically impossible, in the opinion of José Antonio Revah, one of PEV-Phase II's officer (Hedberg 1989). Land plots or already built houses had to be purchased at normal market conditions that made the process slow and intricate. In May 1987 approximately 1000 dwellings had been delivered to their owners-to-be, but most of these dwellings were actually included in RHP or in other running programs (Hedberg 1989: 51ff). Anyway, around one half of the planned dwellings were under construction in July 1987. The building of the rest would soon start, and the whole program would be completed in January 1988 (Mécatl et al. 1987: 84). In August 1987, 4438 dwellings were built but 3500 of them belonged to RHP. Disregarding the fact of its total achievements, dwellings in PEV-Phase II had comparable standards with the ones from RHP, but the price was higher, namely 6 500 000 pesos (La Jornada 19870919: 4). Hedberg referred to those figures and commented that cases of “double bookkeeping” could have happened. PEVPhase II had gotten a great deal of criticism for being ineffective, bureaucratic and corrupt. On January 20, 1986, this program embraced 17 713 families. In 14 803 cases some kind of measure had been taken, 5208 families received new dwellings, and 4628 got loans for housing purchases (Hedberg 1989: 51ff). Popular Dwelling Renovation (RHP)

RHP had a different start point: a by-law passed on October ll, 1985, decreed the expropriation of 7000 properties. This daring decision opened a new way to recovery and aimed to clarify the confusing conditions of property to allow the reconstruction of the slummy vecindades (Ziccardi 1986: 172) ). Information of the extent of the expropriation was not unambiguous: terms as dwellings, buildings or properties were sometimes indistinctly used. The first decree included many errors, so many errors that it caused a bureaucratic strife among DDF's authorities, and as a consequence several officers were fired (Moreno and Durán 1986: 174). Anyhow, new decrees reduced the final number of expropriated plots from seven thousand to 4332 (Ziccardi 1986: 172). This measure was joyfully welcomed by the victims and with horror by the house owners. During two weeks many declarations and marches, for or

57 against expropriation, occurred in the city. After a while, the owners suddenly became silent and conform: the expropriation was a very good business. Instead of paying properties to their tax-values in accordance to the law, they were bought at current market prices through an emission of reconstruction bonds for 25 000 MP. The owners therefore got 85 to 142 times more than the tax value. Nevertheless, expropriations in former times had observed the same criterion (Moreno and Durán 1986: 179 ff). Table 5.4 shows the spatial outcomes of this measure. The total land plots according to official sources is a lower number than presented in Ziccardi.

Table 5.4: Expropriated plots by Delegación (According to Moreno and Durán 1986: 176, 178) Delegación Cuauhtémoc G A Madero V Carranza Total

Plots 2614 227 1467 ——— 4308

Percentage 60.68% 5.27% 34.05% ——— 100%

Surface in sq m 1 438 000 56 700 635 300 —————— 2 130 000

The area covered by RHP belongs to the inner city, including its historical core. This area comprised part of the boroughs in which 30 percent of the economic activity of the Federal District concentrated “and are characterized by their high level of infrastructure and services including, for example, 40 of the subways 122 kilometers.” (Gamboa, Introduction). l,4 percent of the DF's total surface comprising 83 popular neighborhoods was ready for reconstruction. All properties with other uses than dwellings were excluded from the expropriation decrees (Moreno and Durán 1986: 174ff). Of the 4500 expropriated lots, 3200 were used for buildings and 300 kept in reserve for future necessities. The remaining 1000 lots diminished in strifes with former owners, or due to unclear conditions of property. In the expropriated land area settled 3911 vecindades with 44 778 families. The head of the program got the same name as the program itself: Popular Dwelling Renovation. This authority obtained broad legal support and faculties, including financial autonomy. The goal of the program basically consisted in reconstructing on the same sites, and the leading agency would

58 disappear after the completion.(Gamboa: 4). RHP was in addition the first attempt ever in Latin America to general housing betterments (Ziccardi 1986: 173, 176). Refugees, organizations, political parties, religious groups, donors and universities, were involved in RHP. Through this program the government wanted to attain a broader ground for legitimacy among the inhabitants of the inner city (Ziccardi 1986: 177 ff). Already on January l5, 1986, there were 31 000 families admitted in RHP. They needed nearly 13 000 provisory lodgements. The beneficiaries would own the dwellings in condominium. Necessary undertakings were of a large magnitude. The main task was to rebuild 42 000 dwellings and non-governmental and private aid agencies would build a further 2437 units. In time, the program was expanded to cover some low-income earthquake victims from other programs, so that by the end of the period a total of 48 800 dwellings had been built (Gamboa: 4). According to Ziccardi —before the program's completionó8957 dwellings needed minor repairs, 14 940 had to be restored and 21 261 reconstructed or built anew. The total was 44 778 dwellings (Ziccardi 1986: 178). Gamboa's final numbers are somewhat different. Table 5.5 presents the achievements of RHP.

Table 5.5: Achievements of RHP-program (According to Gamboa)

Undertaking Minor repairs Upgrading Rebuilding and new housing (Subtotal) Prefab dwellings Total

Number of dwellings Original program Expanded program 4486 11649

490 6220

28302 44437 2300 44437

39790 46500 48800

59 The new building density was higher than the former one. New dwellings had a surface of 40 sq m, three rooms, WC and kitchenette. Rebuilt dwellings must have a minimal surface of 26 sq m. Seven prototypes to be built in concrete were designed (Aguilera 1989: 176 ff). On May l3, 1986, 80 organizations of refugees, NGOs, and authorities signed a democratic agreement to carry out the RHP. It was the first time after the quakes that the earthquake victims gained direct representatives in the reconstruction organs (MĂŠcatl et al. 1987: 56ff). The most intensive phase of activity lasted from April 1986 through September 1987. In eight months 39 790 dwellings were demolished and reconstructed, another 2300 built, 4210 more repaired and upgraded. Further, another 2500 reconstructed dwellings were in somewhat 200 buildings listed as historical monuments. 1350 private companies accomplished the program. 800 of them were building firms, another 70 were supervisors, 200 were suppliers and, finally, 280 firms handed special services such as architectural projects and designs. Most of these firms were small- and medium-scale enterprises who experienced difficulties with the economic crisis (Gamboa: 8). In December 1986, when most people were involved in building, 114 000 worked on the program. Its budget was about 330 M$ of which the World Bank furnished 57 percent and the Mexican government the rest. The price of new dwellings was set to 2 890 000 pesos; the upgraded ones costed 2 250 000, and those with lesser repairs 1 160 000 (Aguilera 1989: 176ff). Figure 5.8 shows how planning and reality related to each other during the development of the program.


Figure 5.8: Development of RHP (Adapted from Gamboa) The loans taken by the beneficiaries cost between 13 to 17 percent in yearly interests. Monthly payments ought not be over 30 percent of the minimum salary (Aguilera 1989: 176ff). Final prices resulted about 10 percent higher, according to other sources (MĂŠcatl et al 1987: 58). Hedberg quoted a spokesman from RHP who asserted that the total payment of the loans should take between 5,5 and 8,5 years, depending on the inflation. The inflation was

60 160 percent for 1987 and wage-hikes did not follow this rate. Even if the relative costs decreased as a consequence of this, the possibilities to pay diminished also (Hedberg 1989: 49). Average incomes for the assisted families received twice the amount of the minimum salary. These families had 4,6 members on average. 30 percent of their former homes had frozen rents and the normal habitable surface was 22 sq m , having 79 percent less than 40 m . The standard was very low. 63 percent had not their own WC, and 29 percent shared a kitchen (RHP in La Jornada 19870919: 2). Most of them —97 percentówere tenants, paying a rent average of 9 percent of the minimum salary (RHP officer in Hedberg 1989: 47). RHP not only aimed to solve the lack of housing caused by the quake but other housing problems also. In the early 80's large avenues were built in the city, and many families lost their homes for this reason. Since then there were people in provisional homes who also gained dwellings from RHP. Another 5000 families shared single dwellings with other families, but the inhabitants of a lost dwelling had the right to only one certificate in order to obtain a new home. These 5000 families could therefore not be included in any program. For cases of shared housing a new neighborhood was especially built (Hedberg 1989: 48). On September l4th, 1987, two years after the quakes, SEDUE's Secretary asserted that 95 000 families’ housing demands had been fully attended. 80 000 families were yet to be moved to new homes, and 15 000 more comprised in PEV-Phase II should do it soon. Other Tlatelolco's families would move back in September 1988 at the latest (La Jornada 19870919: 4). Total housing recovery was 16 332 dwellings through PEV-Phase I; 48 800 by RHP, and the then still developing PEV-Phase II was going to benefit 15 000 families more (La Jornada 19870915: 32). A record is shown in Figure 5.9.


Figure 5.9: Development of all housing recovery programs

61 RHP was considered a success, and the program gained an international award for its achievements. The social dimensions of housing were also considered very significant. /The beneficiaries/ took part in all the phases and instances of negotiation /and this/ helped to improve the quality of the houses, avoided corruption in the assignment of dwellings, and at present is permitting a good recuperation of the credits and a still incipient but notable organization for the administration and maintenance of the condominiums (Gamboa: 18). Nevertheless, some observers feared that the new, increased costs for housing, would be difficult for many people to cover. The new owners were allowed to sell out the dwellings after repaying loans, and the betterments in housing standards contributed to increase the price of the land in the city core. Further, some decentralization of public agencies and offices, could result in lesser opportunities of income for the inhabitants of the inner city. These three aspects, added to the fact that the new dwellings could be sold at normal market prices, could cause speculation with properties and made possible the gentrification of this appreciated zone. The victims could, in the future, sell out their dwellings to people with greater purchasing power and move to the outskirts (Hedberg 1989: 54ff). RHP's officer Márquez and PEV-Phase II's officer Revah thought that land and building prices were going to be much higher, but the new owners would manage the payments and not move away from the central area, where they were rooted. Max Seelhof, representative from the Swiss Red Cross, said that on the contrary the victims would be living in the perifery of the city after two years, and their houses “are going to be back with the authorities, which was what the state had wanted all the time. The whole reconstruction is a large corrupt festival”, he stated (in Hedberg 1989: 56). Peter Ward maintained on the contrary that the housing solution was impressive. Some 28 000 previous vecindad tenant households were rehoused almost always on their previous sites, now in owner-occupied two bedrooms accommodation following one of four design prototypes. /.../ “Traditional” components of Mexican architecture —strong vivid colors, central patios, large common entrance archways (portón), and window surrounds were incorporated very successfully into these designs. /.../ The fact that most residents identified strongly with a sense of barrio that prevails in the area (broadly equivalent to "Cockney" pride in London); together with being rehoused in situ, and continuing to work in the central area, means that very

62 few have sold out. Most were eager to stay and to enjoy the ówindfalló that, perversely, the earthquake had provided (Ward 1990: 195). He observed that RHP was arbitrary against people from the same area and with identical cultural background as the assisted ones ). Through the expropriation the government broke the social parity and divided the neighbors in two camps: /either/ included in the group to become owner occupiers and windfall beneficiaries of underpriced, high.quality housing; or excluded from the RHP program and at best likely to be included in the less well financed óPhase 2ó program designed in part to ómop upó those who were excluded. What was previously a broadly homogeneous social group class was split irrevocably (Ward 1990: 195).

Cuauhtémoc Abarca and Alejandro Varas, representatives for CUD, made a critical balance of reconstruction. Two years after the quakes there were still 60 000 families without homes, of which 40 000 had not been included in any program. 11 000 families had not come back to Tlatelolco; PEV-Phase II had still 12 000 dwellings to deliver —most of the delivered belonged to other programsóand 8000 families were still living in provisional camps. Furthermore, 5000 damaged buildings —80 percent of them dwellingsóhad still to be demolished. They expressed criticisms against the investigations of legal responsibility in collapses. The inquiries had not been fulfilled. The same happened in assigning responsibilities for overloads and changes in the use of buildings. In spite of declarations about a necessary seismic culture nothing was done. Periodical drills in schools, offices and places where people concentrate, or construction of emergency exits in all public buildings had been announced but nothing had been accomplished two years after the quakes, affirmed Abarca and Varas (La Jornada 19870919: 4).

Five years after the quakes

Under 1990 the process of housing recovery was still developing. Work went on in the Tlatelolco area, and nobody knew what happened with the investigations of who was responsible for the collapse of the Nuevo Leon building. In one of the many memorial meetings held in Mexico City it was denounced that the authorities considered possible criminal charges as forsaken. Two of the blocks of flats in Tlatelolco were being used as occasional dwelling for people waiting for their own homes. There were some delays in the works, but the situation was going to be solved in the short term.

63 Then the reconstruction should be definitely accomplished. The population of the whole dwelling complex had been reduced from 100 000 to 60 000 people. A representative from the Reconstruction Committee denounced that despite the fact that the government had given housing to all refugees, a few nonvictims also utilized the opportunity. Some black market’s dealings with the new dwellings arose in three neighborhoods: Buenos Aires, Colonia Obrera and Tepito. An officer from SEDUE declared that rumors of people still living in camps since the quakes were just rumors. The situation was different. When the refugees abandoned the shelters and moved to their reconstructed dwellings, other homeless settled in the camps. Some people were living there, but none of the victims from 1985. The government announced that from 19 September 1990, the demolition of 68 ruined buildings in the central city would start. Comments about inappropriate reconstruction of damaged buildings pointed to corrupt assessments, disregard from authorities and owners, and scarcity of means among the victims. It was appraised that pupils and teachers from university schools of architecture and engineering should carry on parallel assessments to control the observance of building regulations. In another article, the president of the Mexican Architects and Engineers Guild concluded that 60 percent of all dwellings in Mexico City ought to be considered unsafe, and were built in disregard of rules and regulations. Improvements in general preparedness took place through disseminating information and organizing periodical emergency drills in schools and in the existing 1500 nurseries in the DF. A brochure from the DDF entitled Sismos. Saber qué hacer (Tremors. To know what to do) have been distributed. The President launched a Consejo de Protección Civil (Council for Community Protection) aimed to develop a broad preparedness program. (Sources: articles in Excélsior 19900919-20-21).


Conclusion After several years of research on the Mexican earthquakes, I contend that this case corroborates the notion that a disaster is mainly caused by its contexts. The agent shaped the damages, but it is not decisive in itself because damages occur in what is vulnerable, and not according to random patterns. Vulnerability is an outcome of socioeconomic developments, not of the agent’s art. Prevention policies ought to contemplate it and therefore try to modify the normal patttern of development aiming to lessen vulnerability. Suitable disaster plans have to be formulated in very detailed and concrete terms. A mere knowledge about risks in the disaster-prone area, and some generically formulated planning principles, are absolutely insufficient as disaster preparedness. Concrete practical arrangements must be very clearly established in advance. This was evident in the studied case. Planning for disaster and planning for normality ought to be a whole to effectively prevent the development of disastrous processes. We must accept our inability to influence natural phenomena. Our real potentialities to cope with a disaster are actually embodied in the realm of normality. Nevertheless, a safer environment depends on the democratic right to locally manage the territory. Otherwise, and in the name of national or international strategical interests, some population sectors became martyrs: it is unavoidable. To lessen risk and vulnerability must encompass environmental, developmental and socioeconomic matters, in both national and international contexts. Worldwide solidarity must be much more than hastily flown assistance in goods or brigades. Risks and vulnerability ought to be considered as both global and local matters. International disaster relief experiences brought a reappraisal of the role traditionally assigned to the victims. The studied case has shown that especially in a densely populated environment partially affected by a disaster, the response capacity in neighbors, friends and relatives of victims is very high. They do not wait for rescue teams or official representatives. Disaster managers must pay attention to the fact that an extended spontaneous participation will not only be important, but unavoidable. Spontaneity as a component of the emergency response should be better weighed in disaster planning. Suitable coping strategies, especially in a disaster like Mexico City’s, depend on the possibility to have good local knowledge and to take

65 decisions with autonomy. This presupposes the existence of democratic community organizations acting locally. The right to create and to join them must be respected. Emergency in Mexico was managed within the ordinary frame of the law, but traditional expressions of the official response, as to cordon off damaged areas, mirrored in some extent the view of disaster and normality as separate categories that must be kept apart. To protect lives and properties by geography could lead to an even more conflictive situation. Caputo and coresearchers (1985: 11) maintained that in several disasters in South America rigid civil defence systems impede the incorporation of the refugees’ own organizations, what was likely to happen in the studied case. The Mexican disaster showed that spontaneity and decentralized response are not synonymous of chaos,uncontrolled riots or general panic. In the largest city on earth, the extended physical damage was as a matter of fact of small proportions, but it caused social disruption and massive response. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers achieved an organization that worked well and had at hands the enormous amount of resources in personnel and material that a large city could offer: workers, skills, tools, services, vehicles and more. In spite of the failures of official policies of response, and as the research conducted by Russell R. Dynes asserted, all organizations had for the most all the things and personnel they needed, with a few exceptions. The difficult procedure to apply the only existing disaster plan tried to resolve complex problems set by both the previous political reality and the vaguely foreseen management structures. Delays in going into action were at a large extent outcome of legal and political Mexican normal contexts. Further, serious damages, institutional strifes and the response of the citizens, were not expected at all. A pattern of damages like the one in Mexico City, where 12 000 ruined buildings were dispersed over 50 square kilometers, gives a new dimension to the challenge every disaster represents. Even with a more effective leadership, bettered communication and information, and improved mechanisms for interorganizational connections, centrally led emergency efforts would scarcely have been far more effective than they were. The official response should have supported spontaneity instead of attempting to gain control over it in the name of order, efficiency or specialized skills, because the feature of the disaster did not allow another way of prompt coping.

66 Information and communication are indispensable for a successfull response. In Mexico the media, especially the radio, had a fundamental part. The radio is an extended, cheap and popular medium that can keep functioning despite possible collapses of electricity supplies. Regardless of civil defence plans or the like, the mass media, especially radio, ought to be aware of their role during emergencies and as a consequence, be prepared for that. At the same time, the media pay huge attention to disasters. What we sometimes consider accurate facts about the matter may be consequence of mass media constraints and working methods and not of real knowledge about real facts. Similar problems could gain actuality when officials present records: records often depend on unclear categorizations. Official statements gain perhaps in credibility because they are accepted by international media and organizations, and are quoted in different contexts, i e, they become history. We must observe that in large disasters objectivity is more than as usual a relative question, and before all research based on media reports a careful scrutiny of the sources would be necessary. Cities are growing larger and more vulnerable, and a majority of the world's population will soon be living in cities. At the same time and in general terms, public investments decrease, inequalities grow on, and emergent international relief is questionable in its efficacy. Densely built and populated cities — especially in poorer countriesócan not ground their predisaster planning upon centralized response strategies, entrusting foreign help, know-how or hightech devices managed by military-like agencies. The level of vulnerability is in this context of heavy importance: poverty is the worst risk exposure for a large part of mankind. All attempts to diminish vulnerability must reduce inequality. The citizens self-organization and their self-confidence have to be improved and encouraged by the authorities: in this way a necessary culture of risk in the whole community could be attained.Without a democratic and economic development in this direction, the harsh reality would defeat all planning aiming to prevent and mitigate disasters. There are no unified criteria to estimate direct losses, and the indirect losses are by nature difficult to establish. To appraise the real dimension of disasters will be more or less impossible before a reliable set of methods for measurement and calculation of all kinds of possible losses would be developed, generally accepted and systematically applied.


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Dagens Nyheter, Stockholm. Excélsior, Mexico City. Göteborg Posten, Gothenburg. Jornada, (La), Mexico City. Newsweek, USA. Novedades, Mexico City. Proceso, Mexico City. Sol de Cuernavaca, (El), Cuernavaca, Mexico. The News, Mexico City. Time, USA. UnoMásUno, Mexico City.

Disaster and society: The 1985 Mexican earthquakes  
Disaster and society: The 1985 Mexican earthquakes  

On 19 September 1985 Mexico City was struck by a major earthquake and as a consequence 10 000 people died in what has to be considered as on...