What should have been a romantic honeymoon in Mexico City turned into a terrifying ordeal for a pair of Calgary newlyweds.
Nicole Misener and Stefan Strangman were three days in to a five-day getaway when a magnitude 7.1 earthquake hit on Tuesday, killing at least 295 people and knocking down buildings across the capital.
The couple were at the Frida Kahlo Museum when the ground started to move beneath them.
"I thought a truck was rolling by or something at first, but it just didn't stop," Strangman said, adding the quake only lasted between 15 to 30 seconds. "It didn't feel that serious at the time."
But when they exited the museum the reality of what had happened began to sink in.
"A building that was not even a kilometre away had completely collapsed," Strangman said. "It was a five-storey building, completely levelled."
"Certain parts of the city were hurt worse than others but there were quite a few people dead. We hadn't really experienced anything like that before."
Misener and Strangman were corralled with a group of other tourists in the neighbourhood of Coyoacan where they met another Canadian who was staying in the city.
Taxis weren't running to the area they were staying because many roads were badly damaged, so the couple and their new Canadian compatriot began a harrowing 8-kilometre trek back to their vacation rental, avoiding broken gas lines and falling debris along the way.
'Everything was happening around you'
Once the Calgarians got back to their rental they started to see the full scope of the damage.
"The closer we got to where we were staying, the worse it was and the more devastating it was," Misener said. "It was almost a surreal experience. You just kind of felt like everything was happening around you."
With only two days left in their trip, the couple decided to help with the recovery efforts any way they could. They started buying bottles of water and bringing them to an aid station nearby where people were digging through rubble, looking for survivors.
"It felt good to be helping out but I still feel like we could have done more," Strangman said. "Even though you're there, supposedly on vacation, that kind of all goes away once something like this happens."
Strangman said watching "regular people put on hard hats and work boots" and pitching in brought back memories of the Calgary flood in 2013.
"People comforting each other, lots of people were crying, lots of people were injured," he said. "So it was incredible — it reminded me of people sandbagging in Calgary."
'It was pretty terrifying'
Sitting in their living room, two days after returning home to Calgary, the couple became emotional looking back at pictures they took after the earthquake.
Strangman said he tried going back to work but had to take a few days off to deal with the traumatic experience.
Misener wiped tears away from her eyes thinking back on people digging through ruined buildings and cars, searching for survivors and those crushed in the wreckage.
"It was pretty terrifying, I think for everybody," she said. "There were a lot of people that were sleeping outside because there were fears of the aftershocks."
Those aftershocks came on Saturday morning in the form of a magnitude 6.1 earthquake, centred in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Misener and Strangman say they are relieved to be home but wish there was more they could have done to help the people of Mexico City. Misener described the feeling as "survivor guilt."
People can help support the earthquake relief efforts by donating to the Mexican Red Cross.
"[The people] don't get to leave. They have to deal with it and they have to stay there," Strangman said. "Not all of Mexico is in ruins by any means … but they were pretty shaken up. They definitely need support down there."
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