Environment, Hurricane, International, News

They fled Hurricane Irma. Then they experienced another natural disaster.

While the University of Miami recovered from the effects of Hurricane Irma and the thousands of evacuated students prepared to return to the university, two students had a close encounter with another natural disaster.

Junior Alec Litofsky experienced two major earthquakes in Mexico City after evacuating Miami. Mexico’s largest earthquake in over a century, with a magnitude of 8.1, shook the country Sept. 7. A magnitude 7.1 earthquake followed Sept. 19.


Junior Alec Litofsky evacuated to Mexico City before Hurricane Irma. The following day, the largest earthquake in Mexico in over a century hit. Photo credit: Maria Esquinca

Though Litofsky said he didn’t experience the first earthquake’s impact as strongly as others, the second one was a different story. He said he was in an office building when his surroundings began to shake and pieces of the roof began falling down.

“I really felt this one,” said Litofsky, a double major in political science and international relations. “I thought it was my body at first.”

Litofsky, a San Antonio native, had boarded a plane from Miami to Mexico City Sept. 6 after UM canceled classes and suggested students evacuate in preparation for the storm. The following day, the first earthquake hit.

The magnitude of the Sept. 7 earthquake stretched as far from Mexico City as Guatemala City and left extensive damage to the southern coastal states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, leaving an estimated 90 dead.

For junior Isabel Pérez Ríos Bravo, born and raised in Mexico, earthquakes are part of every day life.


Arriving in Mexico on Sept. 8, junior Isabel Pérez Ríos Bravo narrowly missed the first earthquake. However, she was at home with her brother on Sept. 19 when she felt her room start to shake. Photo credit: Maria Esquinca

“Since I was very little, it’s part of schooling and growing up – knowing earthquakes are very common,” said Bravo, an environmental engineering major. “They always teach you what you must do, so, at first, you feel something is moving and you realize it’s not just you.”

Bravo said, in Mexico, earthquakes are so common and “normal” that when the initial shaking occurs, most people have to ask others around them whether they feel the movement, too.

Bravo narrowly escaped the first earthquake, arriving Sept. 8 after fleeing Miami. However, she did experience the Sept. 19 earthquake. Bravo said she was at home with her brother when she felt her room start to shake. She and her brother ran outside to safety. She said the importance of being aware of your location during an earthquake is “an actual instinct” when you grow up in Mexico.

Even though Bravo has experienced “plenty” of natural disasters, the experience still frightened her.

“The newspapers said it lasted 34 seconds, but it felt like forever,” Bravo said.

Sept. 19 marked 32 years to the day that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked Mexico City in 1985. The earthquake left nearly 5,000 dead and extensively damaged infrastructure, costing the city millions.

UM President Julio Frenk, who was born in Mexico, said the anniversary of the 1985 earthquake is one that all Mexicans remember. He said on the day of the anniversary, he woke up “remembering it was one more anniversary since that earthquake” only to receive a notification from his wife, Dr. Felicia Knaul, that an earthquake had struck Mexico City that day.

Though Frenk’s parents live in Mexico City and felt the severity of the shake, his mom, 89, and dad, 94, along with his sisters, were unharmed. Frenk also has ties to Oaxaca and Chiapas after spending time in both states in high school. He said transportation was minimal at the time. It would take him hours to walk to anywhere.

Frenk said the numerous natural disasters that have occurred within a short time span, including hurricanes Irma and Maria, are a sign. He said, though there is “strong scientific evidence” that global warming doesn’t cause hurricanes, “there are several mechanisms” in which global warming accounts for more extreme weather disasters.

“Our planet is telling us that we’ve done a lot of harm to it through human generated activity,” Frenk said.

Frenk said students are “the key” to preventing further damage.

“Your [students]own concern for being appropriate stewards of our planet as you become leaders is something that your educational experience can help foster,” Frenk said.

For Bravo, natural disasters and their aftermaths are part of life.

“This is going to be my life,” Bravo said. “Natural disasters all the time. At one point, I was like, ‘Why? This is just really bad luck.’ I’m more relieved now and I’m happy to be back. I never thought I’d say this, but I really want to go to class.”

UM students have set up a GoFundMe page to aid those in Mexico affected by the multiple earthquakes. Donations will go toward buying supplies such as first aid kits, nonperishable food items and hygienic products.

Correction, Oct. 1, 2017: A previous version of the article stated the 1985 earthquake’s magnitude was 7.8 and left nearly 5,000 casualties. The earthquake had a magnitude of 8.1 and left 10,000 dead. The article has been updated to reflect this information.

September 25, 2017


Amanda Herrera

Amanda Herrera can be reached via email at aherrera@themiamihurricane.com and through Twitter at @_AmandaHerrera.

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