The emergency crews stuffed 22 mannequins into cars, a mock residence and even classroom desks.
But after the ground shook and the four-story building tumbled in a plume of smoke, four crushed and unreachable dummies couldn't be saved. After 20 straight hours, it was time for newly trained Puerto Rican rescuers to give up the search.
"Eighty percent of earthquake victims can be rescued alive in the first 48 hours,'' said Angel Jimenez, director of emergency management for Bayamon, Puerto Rico's second-largest city. "It goes down to 30 percent after that. That's why the first 24 hours are so important: because the city will have to act on its own.''
Daunted by images of Haiti's 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed a government estimated 300,000 people, the city of Bayamon has invested $100,000 in becoming one of the only cities in the region to conduct its own quake preparations. The mayor hired consultants, imploded a building last month to test the 24-hour response, and will now launch a public service campaign to teach the city's 225,000 residents what to do if the ground starts to shake.
Experts say Haiti's quake served to underscore how neighboring nations, which also sit atop fault lines, lack everything from proper building codes to tsunami evacuation plans.
So while Bayamon blew up a building and scrambled to rescue the mannequins pinned inside, nations throughout the Caribbean are dusting off hurricane preparedness plans and reaching a disturbing conclusion:
The islands are not ready for an earthquake.
Making matters worse, the region is riddled with concrete structures that withstand hurricanes well — but are cement coffins when the earth moves.
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