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When It's Time To End Search And Rescue Efforts


Recovery efforts continue in Mexico nearly four days after the center of the country was struck by a powerful earthquake. Rescuers and volunteers continue to search for survivors under the rubble. More than 60 people have been rescued, but fewer and fewer survivors are being found and pulled out. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports officials will soon have to make the tough decision to suspend operations.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Relatives of people trapped under collapsed buildings throughout Mexico City are anxious.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: We will continue protesting, screams a crowd at the site of a collapsed building in the capital's trendy Roma neighborhood. We aren't moving from here, they say in a video posted on the newspaper Reforma's website.

Throughout the city many, like Adriana Juarez Hernandez, are worried rescuers will soon call off searching for their loved ones. In the Del Valle neighborhood, she sits on an upside down bucket beside a tent she's been sleeping in. She's a block away from a collapsed building where her 17-year-old niece worked. Juarez says she's been begging authorities to keep searching.


KAHN: "We're asking them to keep working, not to stop, please," she says.

HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "In my heart, I know that my niece is OK," says Juarez. "I won't lose hope until I see her, until she's back with us."

But as the hours pass, now nearly four full days since the earthquake struck, the chances of finding more survivors lessens. More difficult, many say, will be convincing family members of that, not to mention the thousands of volunteers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: They've come out in droves helping with everything from feeding rescue workers, clearing rubble and even directing traffic. Maria de los Angeles Saldivar volunteers as a topo or mole as they're called in Spanish. She's one of hundreds who have trained to crawl deep into the rubble to search for survivors after disasters. She was just in the southern state of Oaxaca where an earthquake struck two weeks ago toppling homes and buildings. Saldivar says it's painful when the authorities say it's time to stop searching.


HERNANDEZ: "It's tough. You feel like your hands are tied," she says. "The decision is no longer yours and the impotence you feel is hard."

For many, though, the time to move on is getting closer. Dozens of volunteers are at this improvised distribution site blocks from the fallen building. They're taping up boxes with canned food, rice and water bottles. Luz Carpio says she and other volunteers are delivering the boxes to towns in the nearby state of Puebla - also hard hit by Tuesday's quake. But soon, she says, she'll have to go back to her real job as a veterinary assistant.

LUZ CARPIO: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We all have to get back to our lives little by little," she says. "Unfortunately, we have to move on."

She thinks by Monday she'll be back to her regular schedule. But she adds the people in need won't be forgotten. Her nephew Arturo Juarez agrees. He's a psychologist and has been traveling to disaster sites throughout the city with colleagues offering his services. Although, he says, many aren't ready to talk just yet. Their adrenaline is still running high without sleep and a good meal.

ARTURO JUAREZ: If now psychologists are busy now, sooner we'll be more busy.

KAHN: He says, especially when normality begins to set in. Then, Juarez says, he and many, many more psychologists will be there to help. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.