After Mexico earthquake, a baptism becomes a funeral

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Eleven coffins, surrounded by candles and buckets full of long-stemmed flowers, lay in a row in the streets of Atzala on Wednesday night.

Some of the coffins were blue, others white, all elaborately adorned and bearing names: Manuela. Aurelia. María de Jesùs. And Elideth, the infant whose baptismal celebration had brought the fated group together.

A few blocks away, the crumbled husk of the Santiago the Apostle Catholic Church lay still. Just a day earlier, the victims had gathered with family and friends under the church’s domed expanse. When the earthquake struck the ceiling fell in, crushing those below. The only survivors were the baby’s father, the priest and the priest’s assistant.

So instead of a baptism, the residents of Atzala, a small agricultural town of about 1,200 people, held a funeral.

Puebla, the state where Atzala is located, was in the epicenter of Tuesday’s devastating earthquake.

With crossed arms and solemn faces, family and friends congregated up and down the street where the coffins lay, their faces stricken and postures resigned. Community members, dressed in everyday clothing, served as pallbearers, carrying the coffins to the wake and finally, to the graves.

Graciano Villanueva told El Universal he lost six members of his family in the collapse, including his wife, daughter, and two granddaughters. Villanueva and his wife were godparents to Elideth, the infant who was supposed to be baptized that day.

“I’m the only one left from my family,” he said.


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