Warn­ings over school ig­nored be­fore quake

Of­fi­cial says il­le­gal con­struc­tion oc­curred where 19 chil­dren died

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Mark Steven­son, The As­so­ci­ated Press

MEX­ICO CITY — A Mex­ico City bor­ough pres­i­dent says that 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.

The school be­came a sym­bol of the tragedy when a wing of the build­ing col­lapsed in the mag­ni­tude 7.1 quake Sept. 19, killing 26 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 19 chil­dren. A fourth story had been added to the orig­i­nal three-story wing.

As the search con­tin­ued Fri­day for bodies in the de­bris of downed build­ings, au­thor­i­ties raised the death toll from the mag­ni­tude 7.1 quake to 355.

Bor­ough pres­i­dent 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, said ear­lier that there had been 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, Guer­rero and Oax­aca.

Moises Castillo/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Bor­ough pres­i­dent Clau­dia Shein­baum says in­spec­tors warned in 2013 that work on the third floor and an il­le­gally added fourth floor were dam­ag­ing struc­tural el­e­ments of the En­rique Reb­samen school.

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