Two University of Lethbridge students who were researching human sexuality in the Mexican city of Juchitán when an earthquake struck are now speaking out about what they saw.
Francisco Gomez and Lanna Petterson arrived in the city – located in the state of Oaxaca – in August and planned on staying until October. But midway through the trip, plans changed after a powerful earthquake hit the country on night of Sept. 7.
Both have vivid memories of the natural disaster.
“I panicked,” Gomez said. “I went to the corner and I just stared at the ceiling, thinking it was going to fall on top of me.”
“It’s an experience where you just can’t make sense of what’s going on,” Petterson said.
The earthquake the pair experienced was one of three that rocked Mexico in September.
Gomez and Petterson say after what felt like an eternity, the shaking stopped and their hotel was still standing.
“Then we went outside and we saw that it was much worse than we thought it was,” Gomez said.
Petterson snapped some photos of the damage, but says there are also some images in her head that can’t be unseen.
“We walked around the corner and a building had completely collapsed with two people inside,” she said.
Petterson and Gomez decided to come home, but for Gomez, another natural disaster quickly became top of mind.
Gomez is from Puerto Rico and moved to Lethbridge two years ago for school.
Just days after getting back from Mexico, Hurricane Maria slammed into his hometown where all his family and friends live.
“We didn’t really expect what happened,” he said. “I wasn’t able to communicate with some of them for days.”
Dozens were killed by the hurricane that ripped through Puerto Rico and surrounding areas. Millions are still without power or water.
Gomez’s family, however, is safe.
While he and Petterson are glad to be far from the disasters physically, they say they’re still too close emotionally.
“We were able to leave and we can sleep in our home and feel safe, but knowing that other people don’t have that kind of feeling that we often take for granted,” Petterson said.
“As soon as we got back home, we got this feeling that we can’t just not say anything, we need to help somehow,” Gomez said.
The two say they’ve made personal donations towards relief efforts and hope they’ll inspire others to lend a hand to the people of both Mexico and Puerto Rico.