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The Peublo Earthquake



     My memo about Ed Simmen's glorious ascent to emeritus status at UDLA went out just as news of the earthquake came in. Now the extend of that disaster has become apparent. Hardest hit was the colonial city of Puebla, rightly proclaimed by UNESCO to be a heritage of humanity.
     However, the epicenter was further south, on the borders of Puebla and Oaxaca states. The city of Oaxaca suffered also, but it got less publicity.
     The University of the Americas (UDLA) is located in Cholula, not far from Puebla. At first we had no reports from there, so we assumed that UDLA's modern buildings escaped damage. Throughout Spanish America, earthquakes are hardest on humble adobe dwellings.
     Now photographs show us damage to the historic Church of San Francisco, on Cholula's main square. They reveal the gaping side of the auxiliary buildings, apparently built of adobe. The main feature of the church is the majestic stone Chapel of the Kings.
     I hope Ed will give us details. Did the Chapel survive intact? UDLA was collaborating in the restoration of the church complex and in the creation of a colonial library there. Ed's official job now is to write a history of UDLA. An unexpected chapter has been added. WAISers with a keen interest in UDLA wait eagerly for Ed's report.

Ronald Hilton - 06/19/99


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     Linda Nyquist, a Mexican expert, reports:
     I am a graduate of UDLA, so share the interest in this area. My friend, Joaquina Alavez de Perez, who lives in the Barrio de Santiago in Cholula, has called to tell me that the damage to churches is fairly significant, especially to the church on top of the pyramid. I am most concerned about my favorite, Santa Maria Tonanzintla, which I regard as the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Joaquina was under the impression that it was damaged, too. It is about 5 miles from Cholula, and is near San Francisco Acatepec, a church known for its marvellous tiles. Perhaps Prof. Simmens knows about these churches.
    
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     A further report from Linda Nyquist: This is a copy of an e-mail I received from my friend, Jan Turner, who is associated with SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics), which is part of Wycliffe Bible translators. Although we do not share religious views in common, Jan is a marvellous person and is a nurse. For 35 years or so, she has been translating the New Testament into a dialect of Mixteco. The work is almost finished. While doing that, she has provided life-saving medical care for many, many Mixtecos. Here is her text: Just wanted to let you know that we are okay. Tuesday afternoon at 3:41 a 6.7 earthquakes hit near Huajuapan de Leon, about 90 miles south of Puebla. I was sitting at the computer when suddenly the house started moving hard from side to side. By the time I got the computer turned off and got outside, the earthquake had stopped. Media reports vary from 40 seconds to one minute duration. All we lost was some pottery, but the house came through fine. The brick mason who built the house came over the next day and couldn't find any damage. We are very grateful for that. The pastor's secretary and several others contacted everyone in the church to find out if they were okay. We offered to house anyone that needed it, but apparently only one family had major damage to their house. The center of town is a mess. Many of the old colonial buildings for which Puebla is famous were seriously damaged. The town hall was 70% destroyed, 186 schools, 68 churches, 8 buildings of the university, various bridges, 9 hospitals and many houses were also seriously damaged. They imploded one of the large buildings of the university medical school yesterday. Several large hospitals, including the Traumatology hospital had to be evacuated. Twelve people were trapped in the town hall, but all were rescued. The fatality count for the City of Puebla is 12 and for the state I think they said 23. I'm amazed that it is that low, seeing all the destruction. Mimi was going to visit the barroque room at the university that afternoon after paying for her exam, but decided she would get home too late if she did, so she left. Just as she got about 50 feet from the door, the earthquake began. She was the first one out, followed by a lot more people. The barroque room was one of those with a lot of damage, so we praise the Lord for his care for her - again! All classes in all schools were suspended on Wednesday so the could inspect the structures for damage. The ones that were dangerously damaged are closed for the duration, the students going to other schools for the next few weeks. Mimi's graduation was supposed to be today, but it was canceled until further notice. Tali [Tali is a Mixteco girl who Jan has helped with lodging and protection while working in Puebla; many of the young girls move from the village into "the city" of Puebla, and get into all sorts of messes!] is working as a packer at Mega (like Super KMart), and they had to close the store for about 4 hours as it was a mess. Bottles of wine, shampoo, hand lotion, jam, mayonaise etc. were broken all over the floor. So instead of packing groceries she was helping clean up the mess. One of the churches most damaged is San Agustin. The towers came down, and San Agustin himself lost his head. Quite a few people are wondering about a saint that can't even protect his own church. There are many people who are seeking spiritual and emotional help from the churches right now. There wasn't much damage in Mexico City, but of the 200+ people hospitalized there, they say that over half of them were diagnosed as "nerves". After the devestating earthquake there in 1985, even a little shake sends many into panic. Santiago called from San Juan [San Juan is a village in the Sierra of Oaxaca where Jan has worked; it is about 8 hours' walk from Huautla de Jimenez] and said they really felt it there, but no one was injured and no houses were damaged. There were a few big rocks that shook loose from the mountains, but landed in places where they did no harm. So, we thank the Lord for His protection and care, and trust that many will begin to seek Him. Too bad He has to shake us up sometimes to get us to pay attention to Him! Jan My comment: Notice the conflicting references to God and the impotence of San Agustin. We should remember the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, about which books have been written. It shook and devastated not only Lisbon, but the faith of the intellectuals and even of the people of Europe. We must wait to see the impact of the earthquake on the faith of the Mexican people. I have no information on the religious impact of the 1985 and earlier Mexican earthquakes.
    
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     UDLA President Enrique Cardenas reports:
     We have received numerous messages of concern about Puebla, Cholula and UDLA. Puebla was badly hit by the earthquake, and many monuments were damaged, some very extensively. The State University's main building and the Jesuit Church next to it in downtown Puebla were severely damaged, but will be restored, as will most other buildings.
     As for Cholula, most churches were also damaged. The main Franciscan complex, one of the oldest in the Americas, dating from 1549, suffered some damage to the main church and the tower. The adjacent Royal Chapel was severely damaged, as was the Parish Church of San Pedro.
     On the pyramid of Cholula, the Church of Los Remedios, located on its summit, suffered very severe damage. It is a landmark , and has appeared in the National Geographic magazine several times, with the mighty Popocatepetl volcano in the background.
     In San Andres Cholula, on the other side of the pyramid, the dome collapsed; this great XVI century will have to be repaired in the very near future, since the top of the tower is badly damaged and is moving several milimeters per day.
     UDLA was fortunately spared, with very minor, inconsequential damage. Within a few hours after the quake, university personnel began working with the town of San Andres and with the Franciscan Friars in Cholula. A more complete team, involving arquitecture and civil engineering faculty and students as well as university staff, will begin to help in the reconstruction, assesing the damage and helping to supervise the works.
     Most of the 70 or so existing churches in Cholula, most from the XVI to the XVIII centuries, were damaged, so the work ahead is enormous, and a great challenge and opportunity for students, faculty and staff to help its surrounding community.
     A private trust fund has just been formed to receive contributions to help in the restoration process for the whole state of Puebla. The University will also act to channel funds directly to Cholula's reconstruction effort.
     We appreciate your concern and will keep you informed.

Ronald Hilton - 06/20/99


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