SAN FRANCISCO (Debora Villalon/KTVU) - Passengers arriving at SFO from Mexico City describe leaving a somber but determined scene, as rescue efforts continue after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
Three incoming flights Wednesday evening were met by loved ones, the reunions especially sweet after two days of worry and uncertainty.
"We were really nervous, we didn't know if she was going to make it," Guadalupe Gonzales of Oakland told KTVU, greeting her 80 year old grandmother who flew in on an Alaska Airlines flight.
Her grandmother, Esperanza, lives near the epicenter. Her two story house is damaged, but she left it in the care of relatives, and came to the Bay Area for her annual three-week visit, which was already planned.
"For her, it's kind of bittersweet because she is excited to see us but also nervous, about when she gets back, what she's going to see there," said Gonzales.
Some arriving passengers marveled at how some sections of Mexico City are in ruins, yet others appear untouched.
"It's such a big city that most of the infrastructure is fine," observed business executive Roger Lazarus of Hillsborough.
Mexico City is an urban area of more than 21 million people.
Tuesday marked 32 years to the day, since its deadliest quake.
For that anniversary, many people had already evacuated their buildings once.
"So at 11:00 yesterday morning, we did a drill for earthquake evacuation," described Lazarus, " and then at 1:14, we did it for real. That was surreal."
Those who split their time between the Bay Area and central Mexico are saddened by what they saw on departure: homes in ruins, people in shelters or on the streets, and grief over those killed or unaccounted for.
"I couldn't sleep last night. It's just really hard to imagine all the kids who are trapped under the cement blocks at the school, it's heartbreaking," said Danesh Oleshko, as he hurried off his United flight.
"I feel extremely privileged and blessed and lucky. I'm very sympathetic and feeling sad for all the people who suffered, and are suffering there now."
Schools are closed indefinitely, and millions of people remain without power.
Mexico City's airport terminal was damaged but flights resumed the same day as the quake, once runways were deemed safe.
"The plane's wings were touching the pavement," Mireya Letayf told KTVU, describing how she was on a flight Tuesday ready to take off, when the quake rocked the jet side to side.
"They took us out of the plane, we were like sardines, people crying, no one knew what was going on," Letayf recounted, "and there was no light in the airport and cracks that were quite impressive."
Letayf went to a hotel overnight, then boarded that same flight Wednesday.
As a Mexico City native, she had mixed feelings about leaving in a crisis, but she lives in San Francisco now.
"In this situation, the soul of Mexico comes out," said Letayf, noting the outpouring of volunteers pitching in to help in the quake zone.
She is proud of the humanitarian spirit Mexico is showing the world.
"People are helpful, and it's always been that way. I like my people," she concluded.
Mexico has declared three days of national mourning for victims and tweeted "we will not stop" in the effort to find all who might be alive in the earthquake rubble.