'It felt like you were on a boat': Regina resident survives massive Mexican quake

Regina resident Livia Castellanos had just arrived at Mexico City's airport when the 7.1 magnitude quake struck on Tuesday.

Livia Castellanos had just arrived at Mexico City's airport when 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck

Livia Castellanos had just arrived at the Mexico City airport to attend a nearby conference when a 7.1 earthquake struck. (Micki Cowan/CBC)

With collapsed buildings and rippling floors, it was not the trip to Mexico that Livia Castellanos was expecting.

The University of Regina's chief international officer was travelling to the country to present at a conference and liase with other university officials.

She had just arrived at the airport when Tuesday's 7.1 magnitude quake struck.

Rescuers from Israel take part in the search for survivors in a flattened building in Mexico City on September 21, 2017 two days after a strong quake hit central Mexico. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)
"It was a lot of panic, a lot of people yelling and screaming and it felt absolutely horrible," Castellanos said on CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition on Wednesday.

Castellanos, who is Mexican herself, said she's experienced several earthquakes, but none quite like this.

"It was rippling the floor, so it felt like the floor of the airport was like waves of water coming out, and you could see actually the movement of the floor and the movement of the tiles," she said.

"It felt like you were on a boat."

Initially, Castellanos thought she may just be dizzy from the long flight, until someone came over and told her to take cover.

"A man very kindly, from Mexico, said to me in Spanish, 'This is a very big earthquake.' So he said, 'Come,' and we hold each other in a tube … almost like a column that holds part of the ceiling," she said.

When she emerged from the steel tube she found chaos.

A rescue worker gestures as he searches through the rubble for students at Enrique Rebsamen school after an earthquake in Mexico City, on September 20, 2017. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

Parts of the floor and ceiling at the terminal had collapsed, and there was no power. She had no way of reaching her friend who was supposed to pick her up at the airport.

After a few hours, she was able to track down her friend and hail a taxi.

"My biggest concern was to leave the area of the airport as soon as possible because there was no power, so it was going to be very difficult for us to contact people, to connect with people and to actually stay safe," she said.

On the traffic-jammed drive away from the airport, Castellanos saw some of the aftermath: toppled buildings, fires and thousands of people evacuating their homes for fear of collapse.

"Some people were actually camping in the middle of the streets, just staying there and being really afraid," she said.

Eventually, she was able to get into contact with family and find a safe place to stay until she could get a flight out the next day.

A 'psychological game'

A distressed woman with a relative possibly buried under the rubble of a building knocked down by the powerful 7.1-magnitude quake on the eve, awaits for news from the rescue teams, in Mexico City, on September 20, 2017. (Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Castellanos said a significant anniversary on Sept. 19 made Tuesday's earthquake a psychological game for many Mexicans.

On Sept. 19, 1985, thousands of people were killed in one of the worst earthquakes the city had ever experienced.

But the timing of the quake may have actually helped mitigate the disaster. Because of the anniversary, there was a national alert earlier that morning where everyone practiced an earthquake drill.

Just two hours later, the drill had become real.

"Not only they are afraid of what happened, but they are remembering what happened 30-some years ago, and I think that impacts completely how they think and feel about the situation," she said.  

Castellanos is now safely home in Regina.

Regina resident Livia Castellano was last in Mexico in March for work. (Submitted to CBC)