AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A 7.1 earthquake rocked Mexico today. There are reports that more than a hundred people have been killed, and scores of buildings have collapsed. The quake struck southeast of Mexico City, but it violently shook the capital. City officials say buildings caught fire after the quake, and people were trapped in some of those buildings. Photos on social media show mountains of debris where buildings once stood. And standing next to one of the collapsed buildings is Natasha Pizzey. She's a freelance journalist in Mexico City, and she joins us now. Hi, Natasha.
NATASHA PIZZEY: Hi.
CHANG: Can you describe? What did this quake feel like as it was happening?
PIZZEY: It was one of the worst feelings I've ever experienced in my life. It's a bit like being on top of a double-decker bus, but it's trying to break and keeps shuddering. And you feel like you might get thrown. And of course you're thinking things are going to fall on top of me. Is the building going to collapse? A lot of people here with that feeling of panic had to rush out into the street, where they hoped that nothing will fall on them and no buildings will collapse, as they've seen that happen so often here.
CHANG: So you're standing right next to a building that tumbled down as a result of the earthquake. Can you tell me? What else are you seeing from where you're standing right now? What's the scene?
PIZZEY: For the last couple of hours since the quake, since the building came down, there have been hundreds of volunteers rushing in all directions, doing whatever they can to help. To some, that's meant inching shopping trolleys from the local supermarket and trying to pile that sort of rubble and rushing that away from the scene.
PIZZEY: Other people have formed human chains and are passing big blocks of rubble down the line, trying to get that away. On street corners around the area, there are collections of food and water and first aid supplies already building up. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like they've found any survivors yet in this particular building that I've been next to. There are still army troops and first aiders climbing all around the debris. And every so often, they'll call for absolute silence from all the volunteers around in the hope that they can hear any call from survivors trapped inside.
CHANG: And beyond where you're standing right now, do you know what the level of damage is all through Mexico City?
PIZZEY: It's very hard to cobble together information. I know that there are a number of buildings that have collapsed around the city. One thing that's worth mentioning is that people are very afraid of aftershocks that tend to hit. A lot of people are refusing to go back into their houses. They're standing out in the middle of the street. People have grabbed suitcases, their pets, and they're just standing on street corners, hoping that there are no more aftershocks.
CHANG: But because Mexico City is no stranger to earthquakes, how well prepared would you describe the capital for disasters like this?
PIZZEY: Less than two hours before the real earthquake hit, the city carried out its annual earthquake drill. They call it (speaking Spanish). Earthquake alarms go off.
PIZZEY: And the government will practice its entire response. They'll even stage car accidents and so on in the streets to see if their emergency services can cope. So that had just taken place. And I think people around the city had responded properly, as for all the government buildings had being evacuated and so on. Many people had just returned to their desks when the real one hit. So I don't know if that will have had any effect on the government response. I know I certainly heard the alarm and didn't take it as seriously for a moment because I thought it was a secondary drill. It's a test.
PIZZEY: But it does look like the government's getting more control over the situation as the day goes on. I've seen more troops from the army on the streets. I started to see more fire engines and ambulances taking patients strategically. But closed networks are down. Power's out where I am. It's very hard to know the whole picture of what's going on.
CHANG: That's Natasha Pizzey reporting in Mexico City. Thank you very much.
PIZZEY: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.