ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Geography, Nature & Weather

Surviving an Earthquake: Dubbed a "Miracle."

Updated on April 5, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities after Earthquakes.

Tokyo Quake.  Some fires but little damage
Tokyo Quake. Some fires but little damage
In contrast, Mexico City was devastated.
In contrast, Mexico City was devastated.

A Mother's Love from beyond the grave...

Lydia, apparently, was a normal, healthy teenager. Her school grades were a little above average; she enjoyed sports and related well to teachers and her peers. In fact, there would hardly be a story here if Lydia's very existence was not due to tragedy mixed with such good fortune that is hard to explain without using the word "miracle."

Here, then, is Lydia's Story...

"The year was 1985 and it was precisely 7:18 AM on September 19. At this moment in time, Lydia knew little of the world: its joys and woes. She must have been feeling that first overwhelming panic we all feel when we are wrenched from the safety of the womb by the constricting spasms of our mother as she struggles to bring us into the world. Life up until this moment had meant nothing, except comfort, security, warmth and almost total darkness. After just over nine months, all that was coming to an end. Lydia must have flinched as hands gripped her by the shoulders and helped ease her forth; she probably shivered as the cooler air evaporated the last of the warm, amniotic fluids from her heated body. And she was probably drawing her first real breath into releasing a terrified wail of outraged indignation. But all we know of Lydia's beginning was she was being born at the National Medical Centre in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, 12 miles beneath the surface of our world, and 300 miles north of Acapulco, Mother Nature was at the point of creation herself. For 25 million years, a huge mass of oceanic tectonic plate, the Cocos Plate, had been driving inexorably east, a few inches per year, building up unimaginable stress forces against another mighty subterranean plate, the American Plate, which, among other functions, carries the whole of Mexico on its back towards the west.

Along the 1000 mile zone of encounter, the heavier Cocos dove under the American; driven hence into the molten layers of the Earth thousands of miles beneath the surface.

But a mountainous spur of harder material, possibly granite, on the Cocos Plate had impacted solidly into marginally softer material on the American. Over many years, this huge spur had melded and twisted causing immense pressures to be stored.

A fraction of a minute before, with Lydia still only halfway into the world, the titanic struggle between the two opposing forces lined up in the Stygian night miles under the surface finally reached detonation point. Reaching the absolute limit of its elasticity, the intruding granite spur sheared along 200 miles of the contact zone. It then shifted sideways, in two cataclysmic heaves, unleashing a murderous set of circumstances to the people living nearby on the surface.

Geologists grabbed for their recorders as seismic waves more powerful than had ever been seen by most tore through the surface strata towards Mexico City at 15,000 miles per hour. The huge event sent shock waves into the Pacific Ocean that would soon result in tsunami waves nearly 100 feet high on the west coast of Mexico and elsewhere.

This major earthquake, measuring 8'1 on the Richter scale, caused the whole planet to vibrate like a huge gong. Its effects would be amplified by Mexico City's spongy underpinnings and faulty building construction.

As the shock waves hit the capital - they would last for nearly three minutes and would be followed by lesser quakes and temblors - sleepy Mexicans were just beginning their morning rituals of arising, bathing and preparing breakfast. This is not a country that tries to capture the early worm! Even so, when you have a population of 25 million, many were out and around: on the trains, metro and buses, or just filling the streets in the downtown area.

The damage soon reached disaster proportions: hotels, blocks of flats, government and corporate buildings full of offices began to crack and tumble as the awful shaking continued. A few important skyscrapers survived because they had been "earthquake proofed" (as nearly all were in Tokyo recently). One, Pemex Tower, a 40-plus story edifice and headquaters of the national petroleum industry, actually swayed more than 10 feet, causing panic but little damage, (my ex. wife was on the 36th floor at the time).

The duration of the 'quake amplified the "pendulum effect" as buildings swayed left, right and again, finally cracking and joining the maelstrom below.

The fatal combination of brick walls and ferro-concrete floors, along with utility tanks and even swimming pools on the roofs, found in many high-rise apartments, offices and hotels, produced the dreaded "jam sandwiches" as the brickwork easily failed and the structure pancaked, like the World Trade Centre Buildings, squashing hundreds of occupants between the cement layers - their gore becoming the macabre "jam!"

Fires sprang up everywhere from ruptured gas and electricity lines hampering harried fire-fighters and other rescuers, both official and private citizens. Mexico City had, in an instant, become a scene from Dante's Inferno, the results from which it would not recover for 20 years.

(It must be noted that this earthquake, although huge, was nowhere near as big as the recent Tokyo quake, but the effects - nuclear disaster and tsunami aside - were much worse in the Mexico’s capital due to the marshy foundations, bad construction and lack of real emergency preparation).

Back at Lydia's temporary home in the maternity wing, doctors and nurses valiantly tried to secure heavy equipment; patient's IV lines and all the rest.

But they had no time and it was a brave but useless last battle. Weakened walls soon gave way and the cement floors did their grisly task of crushing the life out of all the patients and staff as the hospital collapsed completely.

Lydia's mother, Lourdes, mercifully, would have known little as the disaster unfolded and took her young life along with all the others; she had been sedated and might have just lain back and closed her weary eyes for a minute. She would have had the life crushed out of her at once, but tiny Lydia, caught between her mother's strong thighs and the rugged institutional mattress on the flattened bed, was trapped and immobilized, but the tiny spark of life was not extinguished. She was not merely trapped but may have been insulated by Lourdes' body and still getting some sustenance for a while from her mother through the umbelical cord.

It was two days and nights before rescuers were able to clear enough debris to get to the floor Lydia and the other mothers had been on. They may have heard some small noise a despairing weak cry. But much to the amazement of an entire nation who saw the event as a miracle, Lydia, unhurt in her protective "nest," was still alive - just - and soon swept into grateful, caring arms of cheering rescuers and rushed to another hospital.

Today, Lydia lives with relatives and just smiles or frowns when reminded of her unique entrance into the world. Those close to her don’t bring the subject up unless she does. She knows what happened of course; people still have recordings of the incident and the “miracle” of her discovery. She knew nothing of her mother or father, who was also killed, just those who still live and visit; any reminders of her mother’s “sacrifice” brings a shadow over her young life.

Lydia still lives in this “killer” city, but millions had had enough and moved to other parts, such as Cuernavaca and Queretaro, etc.

Mexico builds more sensibly these days and has taken advice from the United States and Japan about building earthquake-proof buildings.

I often stop for a while when I am near the area of the apartments I lived until about 4 years before the 1985 earthquake. The five highrise buildings were in the colonia of Tlatelolco, off Reforma Sur, and they all became prominent and infamous “jam sandwiches.”

Life’s a lottery, ain’t it!?

Note: The Lydia story is true, written first some years ago - her real name has been withheld. I thought it might be of interest in view of the Japanese disaster. I was a journalist in Mexico City at the time of the Earthquake and for many years after.

Lydia will be 26 now, with her own family.






    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • John Holden profile image

      John Holden 6 years ago

      Life is indeed a lottery!

      A truly moving hub.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Oops, I meant "Lydia".

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 6 years ago from America

      You write such great stories Bob. What a miracle when they found Linda alive. Voted Up and sharing.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      This old hub should get lots more interest. It's a great piece! ;D

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi JamaG This old hub still getting some interest.

      Thanks for visit,


    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 6 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Wow... I recall news accounts of the devastation in Mexico City from the earthquake, but I'd forgotten about the newborn found miraculously alive in the wreckage. I don't recall, however, any U.S. media mentioning "Lydia" being between her mother's thighs, which as you said is probably what saved her. Thighs in connection with the birth process would've been verboten for American newspapers and TV back then.

      This is the first time I've heard of the "jam sandwich" effect. For the longest time, however, I kept an NY Times photo of a section of WTC wreckage which originally had been four floors (and everything in/on them) but had pancaked to only 16 INCHES high. I used to stare at that photo for hours, but never could get my head around the enormity of the force that produced it.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Genna another erudite comment. I first wrote this story many years ago, as you can see, it's topical because of events in Japan...Bob

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Yes, life is often a lottery...and these quakes are the among the cruelest surprises of all. Excellent hub, reports on the devastating "hit and miss" these disasters create.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Tanks Frog Prince

      Thanks Bobbi...I have had some mileage out of that true acount! Bob

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 7 years ago from New York

      Most excellent story, my heart goes out to all those who have survived this sort of disaster. It is scary when things happen that are simply out of our control, making any of us who live there, victims and shattering our worlds. Very nice write.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 7 years ago from Arlington, TX

      Nice, very nice. Excellent in fact.

      The Frog

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Hi Spirit Whisperer. With pleasure, under my or hubpages byline


    • profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago

      Thanks Scribenet: I felt a bit of a cheat adding this article as it has been published in several newspapers previoust. This was a exerpt from an editorial about the Mexican earthquake. So it is a bit long in the tooth...anyway, no harm! Cheers...Bob

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Amazing story of Lydia from the Mexican earthquake of 1985. We all love to remember the survival stories, because it is hard face just how gruesome natural disasters can be. You managed to capture the chaotic scene and bring it vividly to life. Life is so fragile!

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Incredible story - and, you put it so well! Every day there are little "miracles". Glad to know you are aware of that.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      Life can be so fragile and yet so resilient. This is a truly captivating story and one I would like to share with some of my friends from Japan on FB with your permission.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      Sophia You're right

      Will Yes, the buildings are better now

      Wendy Whoopeee!

      Thanks for comments...Bob

    • profile image

      wendy87 7 years ago

      interesting content bob ... voted up !!!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Wonderful but also heartbreaking story.

      The saddest part is that a repeat is inevitable in Mexico City.

    • profile image

      Sophia Angelique 7 years ago

      Excellent story, Bob. My first thought as I read the openings lines were that you probably reported on it in your journalist days. :)


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: ""

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)