Warnings over school ignored before quake
Official says illegal construction occurred where 19 children died
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.
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.