Obituary: Gustavo López, Mexican earthquake victim

The body of Gustavo López, was pulled from the wreckage that was once his school, just one of at least 30 children who died at the Enrique Rébsamen school after it collapsed in the earthquake in Mexico on Tuesday, September 19, a magnitude 7.1 quake that killed more than 200 people around Mexico City, the New York Times reports. He was 7.

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Though not as strong as the earthquake that struck off the Pacific coast two weeks ago, a tremor that was felt in Mexico City, this one had the unfortunate property of being centered much closer to the city. As buildings crumbled, millions of people were left without power, and many of them were trapped under the rubble.

Gustavo is survived by a family that includes a 9-year-old sister, who escaped from the school’s collapse unharmed, and a father who spent the hours after his son’s body was discovered trying to figure out how he would explain the loss to loved ones.

“To see a parent carry their own dead baby is something I will never forget,” the paper quoted Elena Villaseñor, a volunteer, as saying.

Within 24 hours of the major earthquake, the death toll was 217 but expected to climb higher as searches continue—in school buildings, houses, neighborhoods, and so on. More than 60 of about 400 students who attend the school were badly injured and treated at local hospitals, but at this time, it isn’t clear how many perished or how many survived.

President Donald Trump seemed to offer assistance to Mexico in the wake of this devastation, but so far, it is unclear what form that will take.

From the US Geological Survey:

The September 19, 2017, M 7.1 earthquake in Central Mexico occurred as the result of normal faulting at a depth of approximately 50 km. Focal mechanism solutions indicate that the earthquake occurred on a moderately dipping fault, striking either to the southeast, or to the northwest. The event is near, but not directly on, the plate boundary between the Cocos and North America plates in the region. At the location of this event, the Cocos plate converges with North America at a rate of approximately 76 mm/yr, in a northeast direction. The Cocos plate begins its subduction beneath Central America at the Middle America Trench, about 300 km to the southwest of this earthquake. The location, depth, and normal-faulting mechanism of this earthquake indicate that it is likely an intraplate event, within the subducting Cocos slab, rather than on the shallower megathrust plate boundary interface.

Over the preceding century, the region within 250 km of the hypocenter of the September 19th, 2017 earthquake has experienced 19 other M 6.5+ earthquakes. Most occurred near the subduction zone interface at the Pacific coast, to the south of the September 19 event. The largest was a M 7.6 earthquake in July 1957, in the Guerrero region, which caused between to 50-160 fatalities, and many more injuries. In June 1999, a M 7.0 at 70 km depth, just to the southeast of the September 19, 2017 earthquake, caused 14 fatalities, around 200 injuries, and considerable damage in the city of Puebla (MMI VIII).

Today [September 19] is the anniversary of the devastating 1985 M 8.0 Michoacan earthquake, which caused extensive damage to Mexico City and the surrounding region. That event occurred as the result of thrust faulting on the plate interface between the Cocos and North America plates, about 450 km to the west of the September 19, 2017 earthquake. Today’s earthquake also occurs 12 days after a M 8.1 earthquake offshore of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. The epicenter of the M 8.1 event is located about 650 km to the southeast of today’s quake. That earthquake also occurred as the result of normal faulting within the subducting Cocos Plate, at a depth of 50-70 km.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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