More than 50 survivors have been plucked from disaster sites in Mexico City since Tuesday afternoon's 7.1-magnitude quake. At least 237 other people have died and 1,900 were injured.

Rescuers, firefighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City on September 20, 2017 a day after a strong quake hit central Mexico.
Rescuers, firefighters, policemen, soldiers and volunteers search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City on September 20, 2017 a day after a strong quake hit central Mexico. (AFP)

Rescuers laboured against the odds on Thursday to find survivors trapped beneath crumpled buildings in central Mexico following the country's deadliest earthquake in 32 years, as the search for a 12-year-old schoolgirl that transfixed the nation faced complications.

More than 50 survivors have been plucked from disaster sites in Mexico City since Tuesday afternoon's 7.1-magnitude quake, leading to impassioned choruses of "Yes we can!" from first responders, volunteers and spectators gathered around the ruins.

At least 237 other people have died and 1,900 were injured.

As the chance of survival diminished with each passing hour, officials vowed to continue with search-and-rescue efforts such as the one at a collapsed school in the south of the capital. At the site, Navy-led rescuers have communicated with the 12-year-old girl, but were still unable to dig her free.

Just as it seemed rescuers were going to save the girl, they had to suspend their work early on Thursday morning due to a collapse within the building's debris, local media reported.

Eleven other children were rescued from the same Enrique Rebsamen School, where students are aged roughly six to 15. Twenty-one children and four adults there were killed.

Rescuers had earlier seen a hand protruding from the debris and the girl wiggled her fingers when asked if she was still alive, according to broadcaster Televisa, whose cameras had special access to the scene to provide non-stop live coverage.

But some 15 hours into the effort, Admiral Jose Luis Vergara said rescuers could not pinpoint the location of the girl.

"There's a girl alive in there, we're pretty sure of that, but we still don't know how to get to her," he told Televisa.

Members of a rescue team hold a fellow rescuer from the Topos volunteer search and rescue group by his feet during the search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico, September 21, 2017.
Members of a rescue team hold a fellow rescuer from the Topos volunteer search and rescue group by his feet during the search for students at the Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, Mexico, September 21, 2017. (Reuters)

"The hours that have passed complicate the chances of finding alive or in good health the person who might be trapped," he said.

Two days after the earthquake, danger in the capital persisted, with armed soldiers guarding abandoned buildings feared to be at the point of collapse.

"This area is evacuated because the building is at risk of falling. We are waiting for engineers who are going to evaluate... to see if we must knock it down," a soldier said in front of an abandoned building in Mexico's central Roma neighborhood, one of the areas hardest hit by the quake.

Rescue effort

As Vergara spoke, a human chain of hard-hatted rescuers removed a large chunk of concrete from the floodlit scene.

Rescuers periodically demanded silence from bystanders to allow them to hear any calls for help.

As with other disaster sites throughout central Mexico, officials have not employed heavy-lifting equipment for fear of crushing survivors. Some 52 buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone and more in the surrounding states.

Throughout the capital, crews were joined by volunteers and bystanders who used dogs, cameras, motion detectors and heat-seeking equipment to detect victims who may still be alive.

Thousands of people have donated food, water, medicine, blankets and other basic items to help relief efforts. Companies provided free services and restaurants delivered food to shelters where thousands of people have sought refuge after their homes were damaged.

"Faced with the force of nature, we are all vulnerable and that is why we all unite when it comes to saving a life or helping a victim," said President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has declared three days of national mourning. "If anything distinguishes Mexicans, it is our generosity and fraternity."

Pena Nieto said the priority was to reestablish basic services, conduct a census of damaged structures and rebuild.

The extensive damage to many buildings, some of them relatively new, has raised questions over construction standards which were supposed to have improved in the wake of the devastating 1985 quake.

TRT World's Alasdair Baverstock reports from Mexico.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies