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Volunteer ‘Topos’ have been disaster rescue heroes since ’85 quake

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In Zaragoza, Mexico, after a powerful earthquake struck Mexico’s Pacific coast on Sept. 7, Topos volunteers race to save people trapped in rubble. Photo: Getty

Mexico City — So who are these Topos, the orange-clad “Moles” who are helping to rescue victims of the Mexico’s two recent earthquakes?

The group’s memorable name started circulating on social media when the discussion turned to how we can help.

This volunteer search and rescue group formed more than 30 years ago, after Mexico’s 1985 quake killed over 5,000 people. The youths, all from the working-class neighborhood of Tlatelolco, sprang into action spontaneously, spending days pulling countless people from the rubble.

They have been the Topos de Tlatelolco, or Tlatelolco Moles, ever since.

Five months later, in February 1986, they made their group official, formalizing their organization. One of the group’s original founders, Hector “El Chino” Mende, defined the group by saying they had the “balls to go in where no one else will.”

The group has grown, taking in members from all over. The “intense emotion” of finding someone alive is all the motivation Oscar Guevara says he needs. A doctor from Queretero, Guevara joined in 2010 and is now helping in Mexico’s search efforts.

So far the Topos have pulled three people alive from ruins in Mexico City. Photo: Topos

“Obviously it is a point of pride to be helping here. But we are trained to give the same reply in Mexico or overseas,” he said, quoted in Sky News.

So far the Topos have pulled three people alive from ruins in Mexico City following the latest quake. They were already set up that morning for disaster drills that marked the anniversary of the 1985 quake.

The team has worked at disaster sites in at least 22 countries around the world, helping first responders at 9/11, and in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami. Some Topos have recently returned after aiding relief efforts in the U.S.

Topos volunteers assist with a drill in Mexico City, hours before the real thing. Photo: Getty

Each volunteer lists the countries in which they have served on their typical uniform of a red T-shirt, worn along with a yellow hard hat.

As a non-profit civil association, the team receive little government support, and raise most of their money through fundraisers. To help the Topos help others, click the “donate” box on their home page.

With information from Sky News

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