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Published 22 September 2017

A Mexican navy official has apologized for confusion over reports that a 12-year-old girl was trapped alive after a Mexico City school collapsed in the wake of Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

More than 280 people were killed in the nation's worst quake since 1985 and on the 32nd anniversary of the same disaster.

On Wednesday, rescue workers said they believed they’d made contact with a child trapped in the rubble at the Enrique Rebsamen school.

At least 19 children and six adults were killed when the building collapsed.

For more than a day, rescuers told reporters they were trying to reach and free the girl. The efforts were shown live on television.

But by Thursday afternoon, the naval official Angel Enrique Sarmiento said all the school’s children had been accounted for and there was no student in the rubble.

Sarmiento followed up with an apology  on Thursday night, while emphasizing that someone still could be alive in the debris.

“I want to make it very clear that the information the Mexican public received about the existence of a girl who was alive underneath the rubble was released by the navy based on the technical reports and the accounts of the civilian and navy rescuers,” he said.

“I offer the Mexican public an apology for the information disseminated (Thursday) afternoon where I affirmed that I did not have details about a supposed child survivor in this tragedy.”

The incident has hit a raw note with a nation reeling from a second major earthquake in as many weeks.

To add to the trauma, across the city of 20 million people, many whose dwellings had become uninhabitable sought a place to call home, raising the specter of a housing shortage.

Senior officials said there could be 20,000 badly damaged homes in the states of Morelos and Puebla.

Julia Juarez, 56, sat in a park where the homeless set up tents. "All the help we have received is from the civilian population. The government has not sent anything at all," she said. "No food, no clothes, no water, not even an Alka-Seltzer."

Other Mexican volunteers complained of being displaced by foreign rescue workers who flew in to help.

Oscar Ruiz, a firefighter from the state of Guanajuato who had raced to the capital after the quake, said he was close to a survivor under the rubble and could hear a heartbeat with a listening device when his team was pulled to make way for Israeli and Japanese teams.

"Do you think I wanted that?" Ruiz said. It was not clear what happened after he left the site.

In the hard-hit Roma neighborhood, Jorge Hernandez and a team of volunteers from Mexico City packed up to move on to isolated villages in Morelos. He said they were doing so after military commands declined their assistance.

Mexico City "is over saturated with support and there are very remote communities in Morelos that have not received help. That's why we are going there. There, they need so much help," Hernandez said.

Tuesday's massive quake struck on the anniversary of the deadly 1985 tremor that killed some 5,000 people in Mexico City.

As the shock of this week began to subside, exhaustion crept in, along with growing discontent.

On Thursday, Mexico's Navy apologized for communicating incorrect information in a story about a girl supposedly trapped under a collapsed school in Mexico City.

A frantic effort had been made to reach the child, dubbed Frida Sofia by local media, but it turned out that the widely-publicized story had been false, leading to anger.

Francisco Ortiz questioned whether attention directed at trying to rescue the phantom girl had diverted resources from other places where they were desperately needed, like the apartment building where his sister, Maria, was trapped beneath debris.

Authorities had waited until Thursday to begin searching the building. The owner, Juan Salazar, said all the renters had been accounted for before realizing that Ortiz's sister Maria, a maid, had been washing clothes on the roof when the quake struck.

Salazar said he called civil protection and also implored passing brigades of rescue workers to help, but it was two days before rescue efforts began.

"It was negligence. Nobody wanted to take responsibility, neither the army nor Civil Protection," said Ortiz.



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