MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - When a devastating earthquake rocked Mexico City on Tuesday, 32 years to the day after another deadly temblor, the city’s traumatized inhabitants struggled to understand why disaster had struck twice on the same date.
Just two hours after a city-wide seismic drill to mark the earlier tragedy, Mexico City was shaken by a magnitude 7.1 quake, its second major tremor in less than two weeks, which killed at least 100 people in the capital and 230 nationwide.
The annual drill is a legacy of the 1985 quake, a harrowing disaster imprinted on the national psyche after claiming over 5,000 lives in Mexico City.
In a country with a long history of supernatural beliefs, the timing of the quakes triggered conspiracy theories and reopened old wounds.
“It seems like a thing of the devil,” said Luis Pastrana, a 52-year-old industrial designer who lived through both tremors.
“Another Cursed September 19,” Mexican daily El Economista proclaimed on its front page on Wednesday.
In Tlatelolco, a modernist housing project, residents gather every Sept. 19 for morning mass at the site where two tower blocks collapsed 32 years ago, killing hundreds.
On Tuesday, when the ground began to shake several hours after the service, locals swarmed the historic plaza where they congregate after each quake, crying and praying. Some suffered panic attacks.
Some were positing that the Mexican government must have known the temblor was coming, and others speculated that North Korea was involved, said Antonio Fonseca, 66, a local history expert.
“They believe fantastical things,” he said. “Since there is no explanation, there are lots of rumours.”
Situated at the intersection of three tectonic plates, Mexico is one of the world’s most earthquake-prone countries, and the capital is particularly vulnerable due to its location on top of an ancient lake bed.
Tuesday’s quake striking on the 1985 anniversary appeared to be purely coincidental, said Jana Pursley, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey, noting that the epicentres were hundreds of kilometres apart.
But for some Mexico City residents, the timing may have made lingering anxieties more acute, said Elizabeth Willems, a local psychologist who has treated patients coping with post-traumatic stress disorder from the 1985 disaster.
In a phenomenon known as the “anniversary effect,” distress levels can spike as the date of a traumatic event approaches, Willems said. The repetition of the event would have compounded the stress, she added.
Willems said she had heard from some of her patients who were rattled by the latest quake. The trauma of the 1985 tremor frequently arises, she said.
“It’s almost like working with someone who was in Manhattan during the events of September 11. It’s almost a question I ask automatically: Where were you that day?” she said.
Maria del Carmen Herrera, a 60-year-old resident of the Juarez neighbourhood who survived the 1985 quake, said she was struck by a premonition during the earthquake drill on Tuesday morning.
“I was afraid. I thought, it’s going to shake,” she said. “Those of us who survived 1985, we’re left marked forever.”
For Fonseca, nothing can compare to the devastation of the 1985 quake. But as he watched the ceiling trembling in his 10th-floor apartment on Tuesday, he feared the worst.
“I say that coincidences don’t exist,” he said. “This was something I don’t know how to classify.”
Reporting by Julia Love, Editing by Gabriel Stargardter and Rosalba O'Brien