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Group aids quake survivors

The Association of Mexican Students at MIT (AMex-MIT) has organized an extensive relief effort in response to the damage caused by the earthquakes in Mexico City Sept. 19. AMex-MIT contacted members' relatives who are living in the quake region, and later raised donation funds.

The first earthquake, which measured 8.1 on the Richter scale, killed at least 2000 people and injured at least 5000. Over 250 buildings collapsed immediately, and another 1000 were dangerously weakened. A weaker earthquake struck 36 hours later, toppling more buildings.

People are still being rescued from the wreckage. US Ambassador John Gavin estimates that 10,000 to 20,000 people may still be missing. Mexico is ill-equipped to handle the quakes' damages because of its 59 percent inflation and a foreign debt of $96 billion, the second largest in the developing world.

The Mexican government has organized a Reconstruction Fund account to cope with the damages. International charity funds are channelled through this account and through the Red Cross-Mexican Earthquake Relief Fund.

The Reconstruction fund will probably be used to demolish unsafe standing buildings and repair the sewage system, according to Victor Romero G, coordinator of external activities for AMex-MIT.

The MIT Mexican community is joining the American charity effort to channel money to Mexico. Members of AMex-MIT met with members of the Harvard Mexican Students Association on Sept. 22 to discuss possible action.

"I was just amazed at how soon after the disaster they organized themselves," said Karen Zuffante of MIT's International Students Office, "About 30 to 40 people came to the meeting immediately."

"We organized with the students at Harvard in order to do something" about the quake, Romero explained. "We decided to form a committee [the Harvard-MIT Mexican Students' Committee for the Reconstruction of Mexico City] to address the problem, and we sent press releases to newspapers and [television] channels in the area."

AMex-MIT's first concern was to contact members' relatives living in Mexico, according to Ernesto Gutierrez G, an AMex-MIT member. Since telephone lines to Mexico City were down, AMex-MIT contacted groups all over Mexico for information. All affected students received news about family members within a few days, he added.

"None of MIT students' families have any serious trouble," Gutierrez said. "The scariest incident [reported] was of one family which saw a building in front of them collapse." Originally AMex-MIT planned to send a member to Mexico to collect news, but this proved unnecessary.

The Harvard-MIT committee started a fund-raising campaign. "The idea of the committee was to encourage people to send money to the Red Cross or to the Reconstruction Fund Account. We are not going to collect money ourselves but rather show people from the MIT community how they can contribute," Romero said.

"We gave hand-outs to people and we put out that donation box in Lobby 10 so people crossing the infinite corridor could give small change," he said. AMex-MIT routed students' checks by either supplying addressed envelopes or sending them through Karen Zuffante's office.

Romero expects no more than $200 from the donation booth. The bulk of the funds, which AMex-MIT is unable to estimate, will be from student checks mailed to Mexico, he added.

Although the first set of checks were mailed to Oct. 2, Amex-MIT is trying to keep the momentum of donations up through more fund-raisers, and urge students to continue to contribute, Zuffante said. Reconstruction in Mexico has not even begun yet, she explained.