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Many Families In The U.S. Are Anxiously Waiting To Hear From Relatives In Mexico

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Rescue teams are still at work in Mexico following Tuesday's earthquake. The neighborhood of Boyle Heights in Los Angeles is tracking the news closely. It's home to one of the largest Mexican communities outside Mexico. As KQED's John Sepulvado reports, people there are anxious about family, friends and even God.

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: The Boyle Heights neighborhood is some 1,900 miles away from the earthquake's epicenter in Mexico, and yet many of the people here have been shook.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) I haven't been able to communicate with my family, and I don't know why.

SEPULVADO: The 73-year-old woman who we are not naming because she is undocumented says she only left her landline phone to get some food.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Through interpreter) I just know that it was very strong. But I don't know about my family yet.

SEPULVADO: Anxiety of waiting has darkened the routine in this Los Angeles neighborhood. Take this laundromat in the heart of Boyle Heights. Not that washing clothes is ever like a parade to begin with, but it was surreal to watch people's hands mechanically wash and fold T-shirts, all the while their heads tilted upwards to look at the televisions on the wall showing Spanish-language news.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

SEPULVADO: Eduardo Vasquez was one of those asking the attendant to turn up the volume.

EDUARDO VASQUEZ: (Through interpreter) It's bad, very bad. I spoke with my family in Puebla in Mexico, and they're OK. But they are so sad.

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing, unintelligible).

SEPULVADO: Churches like this one have begun collecting money for victims. Father Jesse Montes runs St. Mary's Catholic Church, and he says the earthquake and other disasters have the parishioners asking a tough question.

JESSE MONTES: Why, you know? Why a nation that is Catholic? Why should something like this strike them?

SEPULVADO: Montes tells them it's because life is filled with both joy and suffering. Many of his parishioners, however, tell him to get ready for the apocalypse.

MONTES: On the 23rd of this month, the end of the world's going to happen. You haven't heard. Yeah, I can tell you. Everybody's afraid, especially now. On the 23rd, we're suppose just go poof, and we're gone.

SEPULVADO: The earthquakes and hurricanes that have ravaged Latin America have some believing a prophecy on social media that the world is ending on September 23. Grandparents have been sending notes to their grandchildren to get ready. The Mexican earthquake this week intensified that belief in some that the end times are literally days away. There aren't as many people on the streets here, says a longtime Boyle Heights resident who we are not identifying because he is undocumented.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Through interpreter) They saw what happened in Puerto Rico and Texas. It's hard. Look; the business, everything is sad because no one is around, and it's because of all of the things that are happening.

SEPULVADO: The man has been trying to collect money to send to Mexican earthquake victims, and he says it's hard because no one is going out on the streets. He gets it. The world is connected, he says. And right now that world seems like a mess. For NPR News, I'm John Sepulvado in Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John's from Southern California. He attended Journalism School at Florida A&M in Tallahassee. John's reporting has earned four Edward R. Murrow awards for investigations, and he shared in a Peabody for CNN's Gulf Coast Oil-Spill Coverage. He has also won numerous other national and regional awards for his investigative and multimedia coverage.

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