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Mexico

Mexico Official: Warnings Over School Ignored Before Quake

The school became a symbol of the tragedy when a three-story wing of the building pancaked, killing 26 people including 19 children

Recuse workers searched the Enrique Rebsamen school that collapsed after an earthquake in Mexico City, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, photo: AP/Marco Ugarte
2 weeks ago

MEXICO CITY – A Mexico City borough chief said officials from a previous administration ignored warnings that unauthorized construction work on a school that collapsed during a powerful earthquake had hurt the building’s structural integrity.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the magnitude 7.1 quake which hit Sept. 19 jumped by 10 to 355 on Friday, as the search continued for bodies in the debris of some downed buildings.

The school became a symbol of the tragedy when a three-story wing of the building pancaked, killing 26 people including 19 children. Photos over the years suggested an increasingly heavy fourth story had been gradually added to the wing.

Borough chief Claudia Sheinbaum said late Thursday that inspectors issued a report in November 2013 and warned the borough’s judicial director at the time that work on the third floor and illegally added fourth floor were “damaging structural elements that affect the stability of the building.”

The privately operated elementary and middle school was apparently allowed to complete the work by paying a fine equivalent to about $1,600 at the time.

“The file was closed, with a fine of 21,000 pesos. Outrageous,” Sheinbaum said. She added that she has filed a criminal complaint against the former judicial director, a person who held the same post later and “whoever else may be responsible.”

Sheinbaum, who took office in 2015, had said earlier there was unauthorized expansion work at the school since around 2010.

Another borough closer to the city center also filed criminal complaints against two developers for two buildings that partially or completely collapsed, killing at least three people. The borough of Benito Juárez accused the two firms of having “used low-quality materials, lying and evading the law.”

One of the buildings was only about a year old and advertised its apartments as being structurally sound and quake-resistant. The other, a six-story rental apartment building, was apparently built in the last year atop the unreinforced structure of a decades-old four-story building.

The vast majority of the collapses and deaths occurred in buildings constructed under looser regulations prior to a 1985 quake that killed thousands in Mexico City.

However, the three buildings cited in the criminal complaints involved more recent construction. The school was started in 1983 but then expanded in the last decade.

Most of the rubble has been cleared away from the 38 sites where buildings collapsed in the capital, leaving only a few active recovery efforts.

National Civil Defense chief Luis Felipe Puente reported Friday on Twitter that the quake’s toll had risen to 355, including 214 dead in Mexico City.

There were also fatalities in the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico State, Guerrero and Oaxaca.

MARK STEVENSON

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