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Mexico: Baby's Baptism Turns Into Funeral As Earthquake Levels Church, Kills 11 Family Members

( [email protected] ) Sep 22, 2017 11:09 AM EDT
What should have been a joyful occasion ended in tragedy after 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked a Mexico church during a baby's baptism, killing the infant and nearly a dozen family members, according to reports.
Facunda Villanueva Perez, 67, whose sister was among the 11 killed at the Atzala church in Mexico, holds her grandchild and mourns with relatives at the victims' wake Wednesday. LA Times

What should have been a joyful occasion ended in tragedy after 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked a Mexico church during a baby's baptism, killing the infant and nearly a dozen family members.

The family had gathered at the Santiago Apostol Church in Atzalafor the 2-month-old girl's christening when the quake hit, according to reports. A total of 11 people - including four children - died after the the church crumbled. In total, only three people made it out alive: the girl's father, Graciano Villanueva Perez, the priest and the priest's assistant, Lorenzo Sanchez.

Perez, who lost his wife, sister, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren during the baptism, spoke through tears as he recalled the ordeal to The Los Angeles Times.

"I am in profound pain," he said. "I am shattered...I'm the only one left from my family."

"It was a scene of horror, sadness with most of the people inside the church dying," Sanchez told the AP, explaining that those who survived moved to the edges of the church when the swaying started while those who died didn't have time to do so.

"One of the things they taught us is to stick to the firm walls of our church, which is old and its structure a bit deteriorated," he said.

Residents dug through rubble for hours before finding the deceased, and then laid the bodies out on the street and covered them from the rain. Eleven coffins were lined up on Wednesday as mourning friends, relatives and locals gathered to remember the family.

"These were all people we knew - this is a small town," said Carmen Moran, who was among the mourners. "That was Aurelia," she said, pointing at a coffin decorated with white frills.

"We've never had something like this here," said Marisela Rodriguez, 45, who runs a shop down the street from the church. "This was terrible tragedy, but thank God it did not happen ... on Sunday. The church is always packed then. Practically the whole town comes out. There would have been so many more killed."

The earthquake, centered in Puebla state, is the deadliest in Mexico since a 1985 tremor on the same date killed thousands. Across the country, it killed at least 273 people.

On Friday, President Enrique Pena Nieto said 137 of the deaths occurred in Mexico City. He said he believed people could still be trapped alive in a number of buildings

In its preliminary assessment, the United States Geological Survey predicted 100 to 1,000 fatalities and economic losses of between $100 million and $1 billion for an earthquake of this scale. NPR's Jon Hamilton notes that the densely populated city is "especially vulnerable to earthquakes, because much of it is built on a former lake bed, which can amplify the effects of distant quakes."

Tags : Mexico earthquake, earthquake, baby, Mexico, Death Toll