Words and photography by Lior Sperandeo

Two years ago in Mexico City, an earthquake broke out at 13:14pm.

I was photographing in a small elementary school when the tremendous earthquake shook the surroundings completely. The entire building moved from side to side, objects flew across the room and the tremor lasted for what felt like a lifetime.

There is no way to prepare for a moment like this. I dashed out into a safe area and was greeted by the sound of sirens filling the air. Absolute chaos had cut through the land.

This is not the first time I find myself in the midst of a natural disaster. Only this time, I had not come prepared. But, I’m here now, concerned amidst the total uncertainty and fear.

Dozens of buildings in the city had collapsed with people wailing – trapped in the rubble. The first hours post event are crucial; the response time will determine the death toll that climbs from minute to minute. While the police and the army stand helplessly on one side, tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets and in perfect synchronization began to undertake the rescue work themselves. each acting as though they had practiced it in advance.

Camera on my shoulder, I began to run into the unknown and document the critical moments, helping in the only way I knew how.

While some crawled through the rubble to search for survivors, hundreds of volunteers clawed away at the fallen debris so that rescue vehicles could cross. For many hours the intense work continued in synchronised harmony.

Every few minutes there would be a shout for silence, to hear the cries of people under the rubble. After each call, a hush would descend and fists would be raised to the sky in anticipation for any sign of life. Despite the tragic situation, every living thing – person or pet – who provided a sign of life from the ruins filled the crowd with the hope and motivation to continue, and not give up. It was then, in these moments of intense silence – while my hand was in the air – that I, too, understood my role.

Today, will mark a year since the disaster in Mexico. And it is only a year later when I have begun to find the words to describe the day I will never forget.

(Orignially published by The 88.)