In Tlayacapan

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‘Here, the dead are more alive than ever,’ the ad on the radio said. ‘That’s why I love Mexico.’ I was on my way to Tlayacapan, one of Mexico’s pueblos mágicos, a category invented to promote tourism. Tourism is down in this magic village. Located near the epicentre of the earthquake of 19 September, in Morelos state, south-west of the capital, it experienced the worst impact in living memory. There are husks of adobe homes on every street, most of the churches are damaged, and the town hall clock tower fell; the arches where the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed are still standing, pocked and scuffed as if after a gun battle. I saw a sign flapping taped to a gate: ‘Careful with the wall.’ A woman was organising a tequio, the old indigenous form of community labour, to make adobe bricks. Scrawled in purple all the way across a yellow house, its outbuildings now tidied into piles of rubble, was: ‘Thanks to everyone for your help.’ The state is nowhere to be seen, apparently.

This may be an exaggeration; but in Mexico City, too, friends, neighbours and volunteers stepped in where the authorities failed in the immediate aftermath. There’s a terrible sense of déjà vu, as the magnitude-7.1 quake hit 32 years to the day after the big one in 1985. Up to 40,000 died then, according to some estimates; the official figure was 4000. This time the national total hovers around 400, progress of a sort.

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