When Victoria Casanova left Ottawa for Mexico City to visit a friend, she had no idea she would instead spend her vacation raising money and organizing supplies for hundreds of people who lost their homes after a series of devastating earthquakes.
The 25-year-old's trip has quickly turned into a humanitarian relief endeavour.
"I was in need of a vacation. That's what I thought I was coming here to do, and it's so far from what I expected but I honestly feel like this is exactly where I should be," Casanova told CBC News via Skype Friday night.
In a follow-up interview after Saturday's 6.1-magnitude earthquake — the third to rattle the country this month — the Ottawa native said she ran outside in a panic after being woken up to the unsettling sound of a seismic alarm.
"It was probably the most terrifying sound I've ever heard," she said from the city of Chapultepec.
"I had no shoes on. I was just wearing a t-shirt and I had not time to get my pants on."
Recent earthquakes in Mexico
- 8.1-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 7
- 7.1-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 19
- 6.1-magnitude earthquake on Sept. 23
Despite being filled with terror and not knowing if another aftershock will hit, she said she remains committed to volunteering her time to help other earthquake survivors. She's using social media to spread awareness of a fundraiser she organized to provide items like medicine, tents, baby products, and canned food primarily for the people in Morelos, a Mexican state.
Thousands of homes badly damaged, officials say
Officials estimated as many as 20,000 homes were badly damaged, forcing those who became homeless to set up tents as temporary housing, according to a Reuters report.
She said she's working with a shelter in the municipality of Jojutla to deliver the supplies, but her efforts are limited.
The website she is using to raise the money has not released the funds to her yet because she had not reached her target. Until then, she said she and other volunteers are paying for supplies out of their own pockets.
"It's my first time doing anything like this," she said.
"I feel blessed to have the support that I've gotten from friends and family and strangers that I don't even know. It's been really amazing to see the Mexican people come together and work so hard for so many hours without food and sleep."
The relief efforts in Mexico will likely take months. Casanova realizes this, but she said she wants to do as much as she can until she has to fly back to Ottawa and return to work.
"We honestly could use all the help we can get at this point."