Like most earthquakes, the 7.1 magnitude tremor that struck Mexico on Tuesday, September 19, and claimed at least 286 lives, doled out its destruction unevenly. Jojutla, a town of 60,000 two hours south of Mexico City and near the quake's epicenter, lost more than half of its buildings outright, with many of those still standing badly damaged, as the New York Times reported this morning.
But Mexico City seems poised for "a return to normalcy by early next week," says Zachary Rabinor of the Mexico-based travel agency Journey Mexico and a longtime resident of the country, with whom I spoke over the phone yesterday.
He was referring to tourism, of course, as there are many whose lives have been affected forever. Rescue efforts to save people trapped under the rubble are ongoing, and assistance for those who have lost their homes and still have limited access to electricity, water, and other services are only beginning.
But in some respects, it could have been a great deal worse. After the devastating 8.0 earthquake that struck Mexico City on September 19, 1985, anti-seismic construction codes were implemented "and what happened this week is proof that they work," says Rabinor.
"Most of the buildings that collapsed were old, pre-code ones. Almost everything else held, with none of the massive, newer buildings toppling... The number of deaths is surprisingly limited compared to the more than 10,000 fatalities from the 1985 quake."
After concern for his countrymen, Rabinor's next thought was for the tourism industry upon which so many livelihoods depend. He's hopeful that the recent disaster won't keep visitors away in the long term.
All the hotels in Mexico City into which Rabinor’s high-end travel agency books travelers are up and running except for one — Hotel La Valise, whose historic building needs a precautionary inspection. The temporarily shuttered tourist sites, says Rabinor, "are closed not because they have been destroyed or obviously damaged but because they, too, are waiting for inspection, which should happen soon."
Many other parts of the country were relatively unaffected by the earthquake, such as the popular beach destinations in Puerto Vallarta, Yucatan, and Riviera Maya.
And there is something else, Rabinor points out, that Mexicans should feel very good about: the solidarity on display.
"It is actually amazing," he says. "We all can't keep up with the hero stories emerging from everywhere. I am floored by the philanthropic spirit on display in a country so often portrayed with negative images and rhetoric. People are coming out of the woodwork to help. Wealthy industrialists are handing over machines and other equipment for rescue and clean-up efforts. Private planes are being loaned for free. Many of the supply and relief centers are overflowing with the generous donations from Mexicans and the international community. What I'm seeing in Mexico right now is a great burnishing of the country’s reputation. Even Trump is tweeting, 'God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you.'"
He rolls it up: "And what Mexicans are building by themselves since Tuesday is much more powerful and important than any wall."
So what about travel there in the coming months? Rabinor is mindful of the challenges. Quintana Roo, which includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, and Tulum. But he's confidently telling clients they should come.warns U.S. citizens about the risks in certain parts of Mexico “due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas” — specifically, to Baja California Sur, the state where Cabo San Lucas is located, and
"I can wholeheartedly recommend travel to Mexico. There is no elevated risk for those visiting for leisure or business and engaged in legitimate activities. The incidents in Baja and near Cancun were extremely localized and did not target tourists. There were no incidents in any hotels. It was organized-crime-on-organized-crime stuff. And the government and its Policia Turistica have also stepped up their vigilance. Your chances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time are infinitesimal. To minimize them even more, travel with a reputable travel company, one with an experienced staff and its ear to the ground. That’s important," Rabinor says.
“And remember — there is no better way for travelers to help the country now than to come here. Tourism is the lifeblood. And you can still get in for Christmas."
If you'd like to know how you can support the rescue, rebuilding, recovery efforts, visit comoayudar.mx.