As Mexico is shaken by two further earthquakes, encouraging stories of rescue and heroism continue to emerge following the original deadly quake of Sept. 19 including that of 25 recently discharged Israeli soldiers who led 460 school children in Mexico City to safety.
The former soldiers were already in the country, and were volunteering as teachers’ assistants at the Mexico City school when the earthquake hit. They were working as part of the Heroes for Life organization, an Israeli NGO that sends out post-army travelers to volunteer where there is need around the world.
Ynet News reported that as local teachers “were at a loss for what to do,” the 25 young Israelis took charge and calmly evacuated the pupils out of the building and into the open.
The school’s principal Romero Sanchez affirmed that the Israelis’ “cool” had saved lives.
“It seemed like they were ready for the quake to hit,” Sanchez told reporters.
One of the volunteers, 23-year-old Shir Volotzki, told reporters about the moment the earthquake began.
“Within seconds I realized I was expected to start doing something without regard to my own life, but only those of the sweet children,” she said. “The situation was incomprehensible.”
“We took the kids out of the classrooms and I saw their panic at this unexpected natural disaster. I started moving from one to another and try to calm them down,” Volotzki related.
Volotzki recalled the distress of the children before their parents arrived, and how the team “enveloped” them to comfort them.
Another member of the Israeli team, Hodaya Lakaw, 24, from Ashkelon, also specifically referred to the children’s reaction to the quake.
Describing how she had to control her own fear she told reporters: “I’m usually a pretty upbeat person, but I was sure I won’t survive this. It broke my heart to see the kids crying. I wanted to scream with fear but decided to stay strong for them, because they needed me to.”
“We’re thankful for everything they did. Their actions saved lives,” Sanchez said.
The young volunteers’ reactions in the face of disaster were in keeping with that of the Israeli delegation of search and rescue workers and engineers that was sent to help some 48 hours after the 7.1 quake hit and killed around 300 people. The engineers helped to assess structural damage to building as rescue workers brought equipment to detect cell phone signals from underneath the rubble.
On Friday, Israel’s Channel 2, reported, the Israeli delegation was greeted with spontaneous applause on the streets of Mexico in recognition of their assistance.
For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also commended the delegation for their initial work, and for the work they are continuing to do in Mexico, saying that the team represented the “true Israel.”
“You are making the State of Israel very proud,” he said.
Israel is normally among the first of the nations to send emergency workers and help to disaster areas.