Sergio Santiago lives in a two-story house with his wife, son, in-laws and brother-in-law in Valle de Chalco Solidaridad. To get from this municipality of the State of Mexico to his work in the capital, he had to leave every day at eight in the morning and do a too cumbersome combination of transport. It took two hours to get there. After catching covid, in November, he began to travel part of the journey by bicycle to avoid traveling overcrowded and did the rest on Line 12 of the metro. Before leaving home, his three-year-old son tried to keep him because he did not see him again until eleven o’clock at night. “Daddy, your helmet. Daddy, your lamps. The man was walking away and the boy was calling him again. “Daddy, a kiss. Daddy, your blessings. Before crossing the door, the little one insisted: “Five for the road, just in case.” And they were high-fiving.
“Nothing can happen to me, son, because who am I?”
At 22:22 on May 3, when two wagons of Metro Line 12 collapsed between the Olivos and Tezonco stations, Santiago did not see his life pass in a minute as people who go through extreme situations tell. He just wanted to get out there and high-five with his son. He only asked one question: “How is Batman going to die here?”
Santiago, 38, had finished his shift as a salesman in a shopping center that night just after ten o’clock, had climbed the stairs to the platform and when the subway arrived he thought about letting him pass because the last wagons, where it is allowed to travel with bicycles , they were full. But when the train stopped at the Tezonco station, all the passengers got out and he was able to enter. He was standing, holding his bicycle, with his helmet and glasses still on. Two men next to him were talking about how the Day of the Holy Cross, which was celebrated that day, had passed. In less than a minute, he heard the same loud noise described by other survivors.
26 people died and nearly a hundred were injured after the subway crashed into one of the main avenues on the southern outskirts of the city. Santiago flew backwards when the noise sounded and the rest of the passengers fell on him, some already passed out. On one side, a woman was holding onto her sweater; from the other came the strong, agitated breathing of a man. The breath to his left suddenly stopped and the lady to his right gave a cry that Santiago still hears. Everything was silent, there was no light.
Santiago took Line 12 since it was inaugurated nine years ago in the mandate of Marcelo Ebrard. The gold line, the newest and most expensive in the capital, gave him “much more peace of mind.” He felt less exposed to theft, he got home earlier and saved money. In two stations, San Andrés Tomatlán and Lomas Estrella, he had felt vibrations, but he imagined it was normal. “What I did realize was that the trains never met: either one arrived or the other arrived. It means that I was not bearing that much weight, “he says. The line had been repaired but residents continued to denounce the poor condition of the section that collapsed that night.
Lying on the ground, Santiago was motionless. He could not yet know that the wagons had collapsed and were hanging forming a V. The head of government, Claudia Sheinbaum, would explain hours later that the structure broke at the point where the girders, which are horizontal beams, and the train fell to the road from a height of five meters. The expert reports, which will be ready in the next few days, will give the missing keys to clarify the incident.
“It was impossible to get out because the wagon was tilted,” explains Santiago. Escaping, he says, would have been “stepping, stepping, and stepping” people. A passenger who was trying to calm people who were trapped promised him that he would help him again after taking his girlfriend out and Santiago did not believe him. “But the boy did come back,” he says now, lying on a bed in his house, at a 45-degree angle, with stiff legs. “And yes he pulled me out and helped me out, but there were a lot of very bad people. People were already dead. I tried not to step on anyone. I heard that the policemen from above said: ‘Don’t move because this is going to fall.’ And then I was even more scared.
As Santiago remembers that night, his baby shyly approaches. He wears gray Spiderman pants and a Cruz Azul shirt, which won the Mexican League the night before after 23 years. He has two plastic superheroes in his hands. He climbs into bed and soon begins to fidget. His dad wears a soccer club jersey and a Superman cap. He has the S for the man of steel tattooed on his arm, which is also the S for Sergio, he says. The man cries and his son watches him cry. The child stretches out his arm and wipes the first tear with his fist.
“Even the strongest people lost something there,” says Santiago. The paramedics of the first ambulance that came to help him tore his clothes to check him but immediately asked him to get out of the vehicle. “We have the order to transfer people who are worse off,” they told him. He couldn’t move, he warned them, and they still forced him down. The residents of the area distributed water and bobbins, and Santiago also saw how some people took the opportunity to steal belongings from the victims. An hour later, the man received assistance from other health workers who transferred him to the Belisario Domínguez hospital, first, and to the ISSSTE in Tláhuac, later. Only one doctor cared for him, he says. For the rest he has criticisms: “They couldn’t draw my blood, they couldn’t give me serum, they sutured my leg without anesthesia and they didn’t want to admit that I had broken ribs.”
Outside the hospital, his relatives had not heard from his health for hours, like other families of victims who waited in the same uncertainty. They were told that the medical report would be given to them over the phone, but no one called. Until his wife, Angeles, 33 years old and a military man, decided to request voluntary discharge and transfer him to a naval hospital. In the ISSSTE of Tláhuac they did not give them a medical report, but they asked him to leave the sheet and gown with which they had wrapped him before leaving, says Santiago. The doctors at the naval hospital carried out new tests on him – he had three broken ribs and multiple bruises – and that night he returned home.
“I would have died at the same age my mother died,” he speculates. In the chronology that he reconstructs, each coincidence, each second won or lost, each decision is an element in trying to understand the tragedy. “The only explanation I have is that she jumped up there, hugged me and held the blows as long as she could,” he says. “Many people tell me that I was born again and I say no because I am still the same size. They tell me that God gave me another chance, but I don’t believe in second chances either. I do believe that there are people who take care of us ”.
They also tell him that his life changed. “If my life had changed, it would have taken me to a residential area and I would be living much better, with money and without worries,” he replies. But he, his wife, and their son still live in a room where privacy is bounded by a curtain. There is a closet in which they keep the baby’s clothes, a bed, a crib, boxes for toys and a television hanging on the wall.
After the accident, he received 40,000 pesos (2,000 dollars) in support from the Government of Claudia Sheinbaum, which has provided 2.1 million in compensation to victims since the collapse and has assured that the reparation will be “gradual.” On the other hand, he has not received money from the insurance of the Metro, whose director, Florencia Serranía, accumulates a collapse, a train crash and a fire in little more than two years of management. “They were the responsible actors and the most absent,” Santiago complains. 30 days after the incident, no authority has resigned and the main officials mentioned exchange disqualifications. “That they take responsibility for what happened, because it did happen. That they are people like us, normal people, who do not have all the comforts that they still have to this day ”, he claims.
“I close my eyes and I keep hearing the same thing I heard that day”
“Now I do seek compensation and pay what they have not wanted to help me,” he complains, “because he doesn’t go one day, it’s already been 30 days.” Santiago has only seen a psychologist once since the collapse of Line 12. He has not slept more than an hour a day for a month, two in the best streaks. When he closes his eyes, he relives the tragedy and continues listening to what he heard on the night of May 3. “I’m scared of it. All the blows will heal me, but who is going to take out everything that I am carrying? Nobody says anything to me, nobody is able to sit on one side and see how I rest… ”, he says. Santiago cries and makes the longest pause in his story, purses his lips for 30 seconds, holds his breath. “And practically one is asking like a handout.”
If he holds up, he says, it is thanks to his family and three people he does not know: Messi, for whom his son is named Lionel; the Cruz Azul footballer Pablo Aguilar, who was injured for eight months – “Because of his age they said that he was no longer going to play and I saw how he got up, how he recovered and on Sunday he was champion” -, and the actor Christian Bale, who plays Batman in the trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan. “It is not easy to put up with what they are doing to us. Somehow, I think they want to bring people down emotionally, “he says about the authorities, still lying in bed. There he balances between his despair and his strength: “But they didn’t know they were going to run into Batman either.”
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