Miracle baby, rescuer recall Mexico quake 30 years on

Thousands of people died in an earthquake that devastated Mexico City on September 19, 1985, but heroes and miraculous survivors emerged from the tragedy.

Mexico City: Thousands of people died in an earthquake that devastated Mexico City on September 19, 1985, but heroes and miraculous survivors emerged from the tragedy.

As Mexico marks 30 years since the 8.1-magnitude temblor on Saturday, here are the stories of a baby pulled out of the rubble, a surgeon still working despite losing four fingers and the rescue squad founded during the disaster. Jesus Francisco Rodriguez Santamaria was just four days old when the hospital where he was born collapsed, planting a rod into his tiny chest.

"My life was hanging by a thread when they rescued me. The rod made me cry and that`s how they heard me," Rodriguez recalled.

His mother, however, became one of the 6,000 to 20,000 people, according to varying estimates, who died that day.

Rodriguez, who turned 30 on September 15, lives in the south of the capital, far from the city center that suffered the most damage and where his maternity hospital was located.

He was among 14 babies who emerged from Hospital Juarez alive. The president at the time, Miguel de la Madrid, dubbed them "Children of the Nation."

While a special fund was created for the children, it only lasted until they were old enough to go to university.

Rodriguez, who has worked at gasoline stations for 18 years, recently began to study law. The injuries he suffered have caused him to limp, but he can still play football.

The 30-year-old survivor found strength through the love of his aunt and uncle, who adopted him, and a the medallion of the Virgin Mary that was found in his closed, tiny fist when he was rescued. Nobody knows who put it there.Francisco Bucio was a plastic surgery student on the fourth floor of the capital`s General Hospital with his best friend, Angel, when the temblor struck at 7:19 am.

"Suddenly the (eight-floor) building bent, collapsed and I was in complete darkness. I realized that my right arm was trapped and my hand was crushed. I thought `My career`s over,`" he recalled.

"I heard screams from those who were trapped close to me, and little by little they became silent," Bucio said. "I spent four days like that."

While rescuers gave up on finding survivors, his six brothers kept sifting through the mountain of rubble until they found him. His best friend died.

Doctors in the United States repaired his right thumb and replaced his four other fingers with toes, giving him functioning digits to hold a scalpel.

Bucio, 58, has a plastic surgery clinic in Tijuana, a city bordering California, with a website featuring praise from satisfied patients.Adrian Perez was among thousands of Mexicans who instantly became volunteer rescuers when buildings crumbled.

He was an engineering intern at an office in a neighborhood that avoided the kind of destruction seen in the rest of the city.

"Without thinking," he said, he scrambled to the badly hit Roma district, which "looked like a war zone."

His first mission was to remove gas tanks from a college that was "squashed like a sandwhich."

After getting that done, he crawled back in among the unstable, broken walls to find a young woman who had been moaning, stuck between broken objects and bodies.

"When I began to climb some spiral stairs, someone turned on a flashlight, and suddenly I had heads, arms, bodies in front of me, and the groans of the girl," he said.

"It took us 12 hours to get her out. She asked us to let her sleep," Perez remembered.

Perez is now the chief of operations of the Topos group, a civic association that was founded in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

The Topos have traveled the world to help in various disasters, including the 2004 Asian tsunami and the massive earthquake in Nepal in April.

"I never thought about the risks. I was only part of the strength of the entire population that was helping, without regard for social class, other people who needed this help," said Perez. He still tears up recalling the 1985 tragedy.

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