Presidents Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Donald Trump of the United States discuss earthquake, immigrants

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

On Thursday afternoon, President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto received a phone call from his United States counterpart, Donald Trump, in which Trump offered condolences for the recent earthquake and hurricane that killed 96 people the previous week, claiming that he would have called sooner had Peña Nieto not been in an area with bad cell phone service. Trump had received some criticism for not making such a call earlier.

Trump tweeted, "Spoke to President of Mexico to give condolences on terrible earthquake. Unable to reach for 3 days b/c of his cell phone reception at site."

This drew such responses as "The US president: a man who is so resourceless that a bad cellphone signal renders him unable to communicate. WEAK!" from Twittergoer Carlos Bravo Regidor. Peña Nieto had indeed visited parts of Mexico in which the infrastructure had been badly damaged by the 8.1 earthquake off Mexico's southern coast and by the category 1 hurricane that struck two days later, but he also spent a great deal of time in the capital. He received condolence calls from many US mayors and other public officials, including Governor of Texas Greg Abbot, who said he would "stand with Mexico and offer whatever aid and assistance we can to help them recover after this disaster."

On Thursday September 7, an earthquake scoring 8.1 on the Richter Scale struck southern Mexico, Oaxaca, Tabasco and Chiapas in southern Mexico, as well as parts of Guatemala and Honduras, causing damage as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City, with a death toll approaching triple digits. The epicenter was 74 miles (120 km) from the coast, in the Pacific Ocean. It was accompanied by a 1 meter seismic sea wave. According to the US Geological Survey, the earthquake was unusually shallow, which also makes it more intense on the surface. About 1.85 million residences lost electricity. Many of the buildings in the city of Oaxaca collapsed, including a hospital.

"We have experienced earthquakes before, but not like this. It was so intense," Gonzalo Segundo of Chiapas told CNN. "We are alive, that's the important thing."

Two days later, Hurricane Katia, then a category 1 hurricane, made landfall on the Gulf Coast. Although it was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm, it remained strong enough to cause a mudslide that killed two people in the city of Xalapa on Saturday.

The epicenter of the quake was south of the Tehuantepec gap in the subduction zone between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. According to geophysicist Vlad Manea of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, this quake and its over 1000 aftershocks may have released enough pressure to close the Tehuantepec gap, making the region much more stable going forward, but other scientists, such as Joann Stock of the California Institute of Technology say future quakes might be worse, not milder.

In 1985, an 8.0 earthquake on the much better-studied Guerrero gap killed 9,500 in Mexico City. Since then, the capital has seen construction of many earthquake-resistant buildings, but coastal cities like Oaxaca have not. Last week's was the strongest to hit Mexico in 85 years. In late August, the Mexican government had offered aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, Late in August, Mexico offered to send supplies, personnel, radio equipment, mobile kitchens and other disaster relief equipment to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which struck the US state of Texas. In a statement, the Mexican government said the offer was made "as good neighbors should always do in difficult times." United States President Donald Trump, who had recently been complaining about Mexico on Twitter did not respond, but Governor of Texas Greg Abbot accepted. The offer was rescinded on Monday both because of the earthquake and hurricane and because Texas is receiving support from elsewhere.

"Given this situation, the Mexican government will channel all available logistical support to the families and communities that have been affected in Mexico and has informed the Texas and US governments that, unfortunately, on this occasion, it won't be possible to provide the assistance originally offered to Texas in late August in the wake of Hurricane Harvey," reads the official word.

Peña Nieto released a statement describing Thursday's conversation with Trump as productive, though he mentioned they also discussed Trump's decision to end his predecessor Barack Obama's DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, program, which allowed undocumented immigrants who had come to the US as children to remain in the country. A large number of DACA participants are Mexican. Trump and the US Congress have begun negotiations for a permanent arrangement for these immigrants, and there are currently four formal bills under discussion.


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