MEXICO CITY – Wearing a hardhat, Rodrigo Diaz Mejia steps onto the hood of a crushed car and then gingerly into an apartment cracked open by the Sept. 19 earthquake. Inside he spots a photo of two young boys hanging on a wall spider-webbed with deep cracks. He puts it under his arm to carry it out for the family.
For weeks, the mechanic by trade has been climbing through broken walls and over buckled floors in the increasingly unstable buildings of the Tokio 517 apartment complex in central Mexico City to emerge with prized photos, clothes and documents for grateful residents. But now, he says, rains and further shifts mean he may have to stop taking the risk.
The buildings "have settled a bit more and the walls have opened a bit more. Things have fallen. They are starting to want to collapse at any moment," he said of the complex of three apartment buildings in the Portales Norte neighborhood, two of which collapsed.
Thousands of Mexico City residents have been unable to return to their collapsed or severely damaged buildings one month after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake killed 228 people in the capital and many say they have not yet received promised financial assistance.
Hundreds of buildings were evacuated after the quake and efforts to tear down the ones too damaged to be repaired are only just beginning. Crews will strip buildings of anything that could be a hazard and begin the slow process of low-tech demolition in an urban setting.
People forced out of those structures, meanwhile, are staying with relatives, at hotels or even in tents on the street. The government has said it will offer low-interest loans for people to repair homes or seek new lodgings, but that seemingly will be a slow process.
Maria Luisa Campuzano Fernandez has been staying in a hotel since the earthquake damaged the Mexico City apartment building where she had lived for 15 years.
Inspectors have told her the building is structurally sound but its walls badly damaged. The culprit was a neighboring building, badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake, that banged violently against her own.
She has notes about the assistance the government said will be available scribbled on a pad but she has not received any of that aid.
"No money at all has come and we're all trembling because every apartment is heavily damaged," she said, standing in her building's lobby where the ceiling is held up by wooden supports.
Architect Ana Maria Rodriguez Maya was at work in her fourth-floor apartment when the quake hit. As she tried to flee via the stairwell, she felt the building drop out from under her. She made it to the roof and then onto the roof of an adjacent building.
Eight other people remained trapped inside. Hearing their cries as the cloud of dust dispersed, neighbors and nearby workers rushed in with pickaxes, shovels and ladders and rescued them all from the rubble.
Rodriguez says the building's residents remain in limbo. They haven't seen any government assistance, except for one payment of 3,000 pesos (a bit over $150) made to a family of four to find housing. She, her sons, her nephew, their two dogs and a cat are now spread out across the city in houses of relatives and friends.
Her sons finally ventured back into the building and shot a video of her home of 20 years, which she had recently remodeled.
"I don't want to see. I say no. I want to remain with my image of my apartment," she said, tears welling in her eyes.