Mexico Marks 20th Anniversary of Devastating Quake

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Twenty years have passed since a devastating 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Mexico City on the morning of September 19, 1985 (a second quake, magnitude 7.5, struck the following day). The damage to health infrastructure was shocking. In the three largest health institutions in Mexico City—the Social Security Institution’s National Medical Center, the Hospital General and the Hospital Juarez—5,826 hospital beds were lost either to the direct impact of the quakes or because the hospital had to be evacuated. Most striking were the collapse of the obstetric complex (six floors) and the medical residences (eight floors) of the Hospital General and the collapse of the 12-story central tower of the Hospital Juarez.

The damage to Mexico’s health infrastructure marked a turning point. Up until the mid-1980s, efforts had focused almost exclusively on disaster preparedness for health personnel. The Mexico earthquake revealed the futility of focusing exclusively on preparing the region’s human resources if the facilities in which they worked could not withstand the impact of the disaster (among the 561 people who perished at the Hospital Juarez were many health professionals who had participated in disaster preparedness training). Many in the disaster community were awakened to the importance of disaster mitigation and Mexico’s health authorities were among the region’s strongest proponents.

Today, 20 years later, the Government of Mexico, in coordination with the Pan American Health Organization, is convening a major international meeting to mark this anniversary and to highlight the issue of safe hospitals as a disaster reduction goal for the Americas. The meeting will take place in Mexico City from 19-21 September and is open to all interested health preparedness professionals, civil defense and civil protection personnel, engineers, architects and other mitigation experts, representatives of Ministries of Health and other institutions from Latin America and the Caribbean. There will be simultaneous Spanish-English translation in all plenary sessions. Mark your calendars now. More information in the next issue of this Newsletter.

 

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