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Gracias, Seattle: Sisters bring water and aid to Mexico earthquake victims

SAN GREGORIO ATLAPULCO, MEXICO - A week after Mexico City’s devastating earthquake, donations continue to pour in. One came this week from Seattle and was delivered by hand to a hard hit town. KUOW's Liz Jones just happened to be nearby.

The woman at the heart of this donation effort is Araceli Hernandez. I’m with her at a grocery store in Mexico City, buying cases of bleach, soap and shampoo. 

"Let's buy three more boxes of that shampoo," Hernandez calls to her sisters. 

The bleach is for cleaning, and also used to purify water in rural areas.

Hernandez has lived in Seattle 20 years but most of her family is in Mexico City. Her two sisters, a niece and a friend are with us, too.

She jokes that it's a Mexican-American joint effort.

"It's true," Hernandez says. "Because I can’t do this without my sisters. I don’t have the local contacts, and I don’t know the city or where to go."

Hernandez just happened to be visiting family in Mexico City when the 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit. Since then, she and her sisters have looked for ways to help.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Araceli Hernandez, right, and her family friend Roberto Campos shop for shampoo and other donation items at a store in Mexico City. ", "fid": "139454", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201709/MF_Liz02_0.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones "}]]They’ve already taken one round of donations to San Gregorio Atlapulco, an agricultural town south of the city, where the water lines have been ruptured. 

"We saw people with big signs saying that we need water, please give us water, soap and food," Hernandez says. 

[asset-images[{"caption": "Friends and neighbors gathered 170 jugs of water to donate in less than 8 hours. Some smalls towns south of Mexico City have been without water since the earthquake ruptured water lines.", "fid": "139455", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201709/MF_Liz05.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones "}]]

Friends back home, in Seattle, saw her photos and started gathering money. A day later, Hernandez had more than $1,100 to spend on supplies. 


[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "139456", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201709/MF_Liz01.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones "}]]

In the meantime, her sisters put out the call to locals. A friend with a small store answered. That’s our next stop.

We arrive a small convenience store, and the sidewalk is lined with 5-gallon water jugs — the kind used in a typical office water cooler. 

"Today, Dinorah called me and I started to send messages to ask my friends for donations," says Isabel Colua, the store owner. "The word just spread."

She also posted a big, handwritten sign in her store window to ask for water donations. In less than eight hours, Colua collected 170 water jugs.

"Agua, agua! Water!" Neighbors call out as they come into the street and help load the water. 

The jugs fill the back of a large truck, stacked two layers deep.

Now, with two trucks fully loaded, we head to our final stop an hour south of Mexico City. Hernandez and her family are going back to San Gregorio, where a friend of their family lives. He told them many people here feel forgotten, as relief efforts initially focused more on the city center, although more than a thousand homes in San Gregorio are reportedly ruined.

Driving in, the damage is everywhere. Mounds of debris on the sidewalk, homes and streets taped off, and hundreds of people lined up at makeshift donation sites. 

As night falls, our caravan arrives at the friend’s house - they call him “El Charro,” the cowboy. A lot of his neighbors start to filter in. Most are small farmers who live in the nearby hills. 

"Welcome, good evening," the volunteers call out as people line up for water, soap, diapers and other donations.

[asset-images[{"caption": "This family has been without running water since the earthquake. They say they have enough donated water to cook, but not to clean. ", "fid": "139457", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201709/MF_Liz04.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones "}]]Areli San Juan Benancia arrives with a wheelbarrow and her four young children. 

"It scared me a lot," says her 8-year-old daughter Yoloxin. "I was scared for my grandmother."

Their family is okay, but the house has some cracks they fear could get worse. And the kids are still shaken.

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "139458", "style": "placed_left", "uri": "public://201709/MF_Liz07.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones "}]]"I’m afraid to feel another one," says younger sister, Paula, 6. "I'm afraid another one will happen."

The girls' mother and other farmers who come say government help has not reached them. Even though local officials have helped set up a well-stocked relief center in the town square.

Winsor Hernandez Cerande, 62, a retired farmer who now sells ice cream, loads up his water jug and thanks the volunteers.

When I ask how he’s doing, he just breaks down.

"Everyone is sad because so many families are now without a home," he says, his voice choking up. "We’re so grateful for this help to our village. Things are bad."

On the top of every water jug, someone has written short messages in black marker. Some say “we’re with you” and “stay strong.” 

Windor Hernandez reads from his: "Orgullo Mexicano." Mexican pride. 

"Claro!" he exclaims.

Of course.

He hoists the water jug on his shoulder and walks away slowly, back into the night.

Year started with KUOW: 2006