It was supposed to be a quiet morning of wandering around Mexico City. There was a bookstore I wanted to visit, and a few last things I needed to buy for the trip to El Salvador. Later in the afternoon I’d be meeting the rest of the IWMF fellows by a 7-11 in La Condesa, the upscale neighborhood where I’d been staying with a friend for a few days. The day was sunny and pleasant, and I went happily by foot to the bookstore in Colonia Juárez – really it’s a library of art and poetry – and I sat down in the back room to leaf through chapbooks. Another woman stood up to shelve a volume, and I thought that for some reason she was shaking the whole bookshelf.
I’ve been in two much smaller earthquakes, and in each a similar kind of erroneous imposed itself: I was lying on a lawn and attributed the shaking to my brother’s footsteps running past; I was in a tall office building and I thought perhaps the wind was gusting. My brain sought some impossible explanation, reacting with its own kind of rationality.
But this time the shelves and the floor kept moving, an alarm sounded, I felt sudden vertigo. The other woman laughed nervously and then other voices from the front room started yelling for us to get out. We ran. It was the first floor on a narrow street and it seemed the buildings were swaying in toward us. There was dust in the air. The group of us from the library ran to a larger intersection, and stood, not still, but trembling. We chatted with nervous energy, some started joking, others crying. I stayed with them a while as the larger avenidas near us filled with traffic and sirens. The sun felt unnaturally hot. Finally I decided to leave; I had two hours to meet the group and I still didn’t understand how bad things were. It was a long walk, with many detours around rubble and glass; some streets were already blocked off, others too thronged. Following a running crowd, I ended up on the corner of Álvaro Obregón, where an office building had just collapsed; at least 20 dead would later be pulled from it. People looked overwhelmed, disoriented, blinking. I have never made eye contact with so many strangers. We were all searching passing faces as if to ask: Did you feel it too? And are you still here too?
The day extended and burned in my memory as only tragic ones do: I feel that I could recount it by the minute. Suffice to say we did not leave the city that day. I found my reporting partner Danielle and with a friend we went to a park in Condesa to help however we could, moving supplies around, joining human chains passing rubble down the street. Other IWMF fellows were out reporting. The next day, there we were, finally bundled into a van, exhausted and still shaken (forgive the pun), sharing our where-were-yous and struck by the irony that we were a bus full of journalists heading away from an actual crisis for a training on how to respond to crises. And over the next days, the surreal feeling persisted: As we practiced first aid and how to dive and roll under fire I thought how useless I’d felt in the evening for the earthquake, how I hadn’t been in good walking shoes and how the battery on my phone and my flashlight had died (and a miracle I’d even had a flashlight in my bag.) I had a handkerchief to wrap around my face. I had some snacks in my bag to share, and I almost always carry pen and paper. Over the next weeks, from hotel TVs in El Salvador and Guatemala, we watched Puerto Rico and then Las Vegas. Would I be better prepared for the next one, as a journalist and as a human? There are limits to how much one can ever be ready.
– Cora Currier