When the Enrique Rebsamen School fell, it did not do so lightly. The 7.1-magnitude earthquake that jolted the region on Tuesday caused part of the building to fold in on itself, sandwiching and collapsing, classroom onto classroom.
In the destruction, rescuers found the bodies of 21 schoolchildren and four adults. Now, the community is waiting for word on the dozens more still missing.
But waiting isn’t enough.
They – strangers, friends and rescue crews – are scraping through the rubble with their bare hands, walking the streets with the names of the missing children printed on cardboard signs. When all else fails, they are sharing names on social media and offering whatever comfort can be managed.
While the scene is grim, every rescue provides hope. Walking around the dusty perimeter of what used to be the schoolhouse, a man notices something behind a hole in an outer wall.
“Here are children!” he shouts. “Ayuden!”
From the hole, several children are pulled sobbing, but apparently not seriously injured.
A volunteer at the school told Mexican news outlet Imagen Noticias that the whole area has been transformed, with every person and every detail focused on saving what – and who – they can.
“Houses were turned into hospitals,” she said. “We brought shovels, spikes, first aid material.” She and her son have helped by digging into the debris. Construction workers from a nearby site came with their machines to assist.
“It was neighbors more than anything,” she said.
Another woman at the scene told Imagen Noticias she managed to escape the falling buildings near the school as the earthquake struck.
“When we came out on the street, we saw the cloud of dust,” she said. “We would get close and yell, but the dust wouldn’t let us see anything. We hugged and cried and they told me a column fell and there was a little girl crushed, there in the middle.”
According to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, as many as 30 people are still trapped in the wrecked school, which serves children from kindergarten age to secondary school age. A teacher at a nearby school told CNN Enrique Rebsamen is a private school, the likes of which would typically house a maximum of 200 students.
Rescue efforts have been very coordinated, with the Mexican Navy and Marines, the Red Cross, and a professional rescue team called Los Topos coming in and out with machinery as needed. The buildings around the school are also heavily damaged.
On social media, concerned citizens are sharing pictures of people holding up paper signs printed with the names of missing children. “Anet Michel 7, Karen Valentina 7, Cinthia Velaquez 11.”
The family of 7-year-old Jose Eduardo Huerta Rodriguez looked for hours through handwritten lists with names of those who had been rescued. They also visited the city’s hospitals.
Late Tuesday night, a family member who had stayed outside the school called Jose’s mother.
“He was still inside the school, and he was dead when they rescued him,” his aunt Paola Rodriguez told CNN.
The lists of names – possibly incomplete, possibly containing children or adults who have already been located – are being passed around online, in graphics and spreadsheets and hashtags, often accompanied by the phrase #FuerzaMexico.
CNN’s Gustavo Valdez reported from Mexico City. AJ Willingham and Cassandra Santiago reported from Atlanta. Caroline Paterson contributed to this report from London and Nicole Chavez contributed from Atlanta.