US & World

Immigrants touched by Mexico quake, try to help from afar

Relatives of people presumably buried under the ruins of a multistory building flattened by a powerful quake four days ago pray for them to the Virgin of Fatima in Colonia Roma, Mexico City on September 23, 2017.
A strong 6.1 magnitude quake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing panic in traumatized Mexico City, where rescuers trying to free people trapped from this week's earlier earthquake had to suspend work. / AFP PHOTO / Pedro Pardo        (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of people presumably buried under the ruins of a multistory building flattened by a powerful quake four days ago pray for them to the Virgin of Fatima in Colonia Roma, Mexico City on September 23, 2017. A strong 6.1 magnitude quake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing panic in traumatized Mexico City, where rescuers trying to free people trapped from this week's earlier earthquake had to suspend work. / AFP PHOTO / Pedro Pardo (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

When Luis Ramirez finally reached his mother after the powerful Mexico earthquake, he learned her home was so badly damaged that it had to be demolished.

He considered getting on a plane from New York to help her find a new home, but it was too risky now that the program that has been shielding him from deportation is being phased out. He tried to send money, but the usual courier that he uses shut down because of the damage from the 7.1-magnitude quake in his home state of Morelos.

"The situation is eating me alive because you can't do anything," he said about sending help to his mother from New York City.

Commander General of the Moles Carlos Morales Cienfuegos, is seen during a break in the rescue works in Mexico City, on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. 
In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / RONALDO SCHEMIDT        (Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Commander General of the Moles Carlos Morales Cienfuegos, is seen during a break in the rescue works in Mexico City, on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / RONALDO SCHEMIDT (Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

The earthquake that killed nearly 300 people and destroyed dozens of buildings in Mexico set off a frantic response in communities around the U.S. as people desperately try to connect with their loved ones, figure out ways to send emergency help, money and goods as well as raise funds for smaller towns around the capital they say are receiving less help from the government. Those in the country illegally wish they could travel to help their loved ones cope with the aftermath but are afraid they wouldn't be able to return.

"We saw people desperately trying to connect with their families. Lines were down. They couldn't think of other ways to find their relatives," said Ana Flores, who heads an office for the Mexican state of Puebla in Passaic, New Jersey. "We have gone through all of the feelings from anxiety, to anguish and now trying to find all the support we can."

Traditionally a month of parties for Mexicans who celebrate the country's independence from Spain, September has dealt one blow after another. It started with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, which has the third-largest population of Mexicans in the U.S. Then on Sept. 5, President Donald Trump announced his decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shielded from deportation nearly 800,000 immigrants — the great majority from Mexico — brought to the U.S. as children. Another earthquake struck in Mexico's southern coast on Sept. 7, killing at least 90 people.

Relatives of people trapped in a building at Colonia Roma wait for news of their beloved in Mexico City on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico.
In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / PEDRO PARDO        (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of people trapped in a building at Colonia Roma wait for news of their beloved in Mexico City on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / PEDRO PARDO (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday's earthquake has Mexicans in the U.S. glued to their televisions and their phones trying to get specific news from their local towns to help their families.

Monica Dominguez, who lives in Huntington Beach, California, had been calling childhood friends who now work for Mexico's Civil Protection trying to pull strings to move the construction rubble from her grandparents' home in the town of Yautepec south of Mexico City so her family can go out to the street. The old house where she lived when she was 5 collapsed when the wooden beams cracked, leaving it in ruins.

"All they were able to get out of there were some couches where they have been sleeping in the back. They have power but they are running out of food," she said. "There are so many of us with similar stories of suffering."

Relatives of people trapped in a building at Colonia Roma wait for news of their beloved in Mexico City on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico.
In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / Pedro Pardo        (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Relatives of people trapped in a building at Colonia Roma wait for news of their beloved in Mexico City on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / Pedro Pardo (Photo credit should read PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images

In Las Vegas, Luis Ramon Corona-Rizo is helping collect funds among friends and hosting a car wash to raise money to send back home. Corona-Rizo says his parents and sister survived the quake and offered to use the money he sends to buy medicines and take them to a collection center.

"A lot of people don't trust the government in Mexico, so I'm going to send the money to my family," he said.

A grocery store chain in Las Vegas that caters to the area's Hispanic community is also hosting a fundraiser this weekend at one of its shops where it will have local bands and sell tacos and donate proceeds to the Mexican Red Cross. In Miami, a group is hosting a Day of the Dead arts and crafts event for families and sending money from ticket sales to the Topos, a group of rescue workers who emerged after the 1985 earthquake killed thousands in Mexico. In San Diego, the chambers of commerce in the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa border communities launched a drive to collect donated goods and fly them to Mexico City on a private plane. The Mexican customs agency is waiving duties.

People start a memorial with flowers at a park in front of one of the collapsed buildings in Mexico city on September 23, 2017.
In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS PEREZ        (Photo credit should read LUIS PEREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
People start a memorial with flowers at a park in front of one of the collapsed buildings in Mexico city on September 23, 2017. In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / LUIS PEREZ (Photo credit should read LUIS PEREZ/AFP/Getty Images)
LUIS PEREZ/AFP/Getty Images

"Many of our employees have relatives and friends who were affected by the earthquake," said Ruben Anaya, chief operations officer of Mariana's Supermarkets in Las Vegas. "It is our duty as human beings to help when tragedies like the one that just happened in Mexico occur. Many of the videos we've watched are horrible."

The quake happened around the same time as Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, and Mexican immigrants are joining efforts in places such as New York City where Puerto Ricans are also in distress.

Both Univision and Telemundo broadcasters are also producing television specials this weekend with actors, singers and news anchors to help raise funds for those affected by the earthquake and hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Rescue workers embrace each other deeply moved after a seismic alert sounded in Mexico City on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico.
In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / RONALDO SCHEMIDT        (Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
Rescue workers embrace each other deeply moved after a seismic alert sounded in Mexico City on September 23, 2017, four days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. In the capital, the quake toppled 39 buildings, mostly in a central area with older construction that is popular with tourists and foreigners living in the city, and also in the south. / AFP PHOTO / RONALDO SCHEMIDT (Photo credit should read RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

For immigrants like Ramirez, sending money is a race against time. His mother is confined to a room on her property that — unlike her home — the authorities have not condemned. Her poor health makes it impossible for her to wait in line for relief services, so Ramirez is hoping to send her money via wire transfer from his savings so she can get food and supplies at the store and find a new place to live, but so far it hasn't been easy.

"She waited five hours at this place with so many other people waiting for money transfers to help them get by, only to hear that the funds could not go through," he said. "She went back home empty-handed and crying."

Someone holds up a sign reading
Someone holds up a sign reading "We leave no one behind" as rescue workers search for survivors in Mexico City on September 22, 2017, three days after the powerful quake that hit central Mexico. A powerful 7.1 earthquake shook Mexico City on Tuesday, causing panic among the megalopolis' 20 million inhabitants on the 32nd anniversary of a devastating 1985 quake. / AFP PHOTO / ALFREDO ESTRELLA (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images

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Garcia Cano reported from Las Vegas.