MEXICO CITY | A Catholic bishop and a Caritas worker in Mexico said the situation was extremely serious after the Sept. 19 earthquake, and much aid would be needed.
“The situation is complicated, because the first earthquake (Sept. 7) had already affected thousands of people in Chiapas and Oaxaca,” Alberto Arciniega, head of communications for Caritas Mexico, told Catholic News Service Sept. 20. “The church is continuing to assist those dioceses, but with what happened yesterday, the emergency situation is being re-evaluated to get a more exact assessment of the aid that is needed.”
The Vatican announced Sept. 21 that, through the Dicastery for Promoting Human Development, Pope Francis is sending an initial $150,000 to aid Mexico. Money will be distributed by the nuncio to dioceses most affected.
Arciniega said all the dioceses in Mexico were collecting food, water and other necessities for victims of the quakes. He said they were seeking economic support from inside and outside the country.
“We know it is a serious situation, and international aid is being requested,” Arciniega told Catholic News Service.
“Rehabilitation and reconstruction will take time and will be expensive,” he added. “Thousands of people have been left homeless, and many churches have been damaged.”
The magnitude 7.1 quake that hit Sept. 19 was not as strong as the earlier magnitude 8.1 quake, but the second quake was centered in Puebla state, just southeast of Mexico City, as opposed to in the Pacific Ocean. Arciniega said Puebla and Morelos states and Mexico City were worst hit in the second quake, which killed more than 230 people.
In Morelos, just to the south of Mexico City, damage was widespread. Gov. Graco Ramirez put the death toll at 73.
President Enrique Pena Nieto has visited the municipality of Jujutla, where houses were reduced to rubble.
Oscar Cruz, spokesman for the Diocese of Cuernavaca, based in the Morelos state capital, told Catholic News service “the damage is worse … in many towns that are even poorer.”
At least 89 parishes in Morelos state suffered damage or were destroyed, according the National History and Anthropology Institute, which is responsible for Mexico’s older churches. The Cuernavaca cathedral, which dates to the 1500s and been undergoing restoration activities, also suffered damage and parts of it cannot be used, Cruz said.
Parish residences also were damaged, leaving priests homeless, Cruz said. A pair of priests were injured by falling debris; one was still hospitalized Sept. 21.
The diocese has started collecting goods for those left homeless.
“People have been extraordinary,” Cruz said. “This has been an extraordinary moment of solidarity. People are coming out and saying, ‘I want to help.'”
Bishop Ramon Castro of Cuernavaca has been touring the hardest-hit towns of Morelos. The bishop and the state governor had been at odds in recent years of social policies promoted by the governor and the bishop’s refusal to stop condemning violence and corruption in the state.
The pair have put aside their differences in the wake of such a disaster, Cruz said.
“There’s no working together” on the relief effort, “but we’re not getting in each other’s way,” Cruz said.
Mostly, priests and the bishop “have been trying to be close to the people,” he added.
Earlier, Arciniega shared audio of an interview with Bishop Castro, who noted that parishes in his diocese had been collecting items to send to victims of the Sept. 7 earthquake in Chiapas and Oaxaca. Now those items — if they were not destroyed in the Sept. 19 quake — will be used locally, the bishop said, adding, “but it will not be enough.”
Arciniega was in Oaxaca when he spoke to CNS Sept. 20. He said the Sept. 19 earthquake was felt there, but apparently did not cause damage.
“People (in the south) are worried that the assistance will stop because the cameras and newscasts are focusing on Mexico City. There is fear that the aid will stop and the emphasis will be on the center of the country,” he said.
He added that it was raining in Tehuantepec, an area of Oaxaca damaged in the first earthquake, which killed nearly 100 people.
“That makes the housing situation more complicated. Not only did people’s homes collapse, but now it’s raining, so people are in shelters, they need food. They are setting up community kitchens. We are continuing to evaluate how much the diocese can do to help itself and requesting aid from other dioceses and from outside the country.”
Contributing to this story were David Agren in Mexico City; Barbara Fraser in Lima, Peru; and Cindy Wooden at the Vatican.