Hundreds of buildings at risk of collapse in Mexico City, prolonging agony long after quake

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 3:58am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 8:58am

As many as 360 buildings and homes are in danger of collapse or with major damage in Mexico City nearly a week after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake completely collapsed 38 structures.

The risk of delayed collapse is real. The cupola of Our Lady of Angels Church, damaged and cracked by the September 19 quake, split in half and crashed to the ground on Sunday evening. There were no injuries.

Nervous neighbours continued calling in police on Monday as apparently new cracks appeared in their flats or existing ones worsened, even as the city struggled to get back to normalcy.

Officials said they had cleared only 103 of Mexico City’s nearly 9,000 schools to reopen on Monday and said it could be two to three weeks before all were declared safe, leaving hundreds of thousands of children idle.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said at least seven schools were among the buildings thought to be at risk of tumbling.

At several points in the city, employees gathered on sidewalks in front of their workplaces on Monday refusing to enter, because they feared their buildings could collapse.

“We are afraid for our own safety,” said Maribel Martinez Ramirez, an employee of a government development agency who, along with dozens of colleagues, refused to enter their workplace Monday. “The building is leaning, there are cracks.”

Five killed in massive aftershocks as Mexico City fights through rubble and trauma to recover from quake

Mancera said 360 “red level” buildings would either have to be demolished or receive major structural reinforcement. Another 1,136 were reparable, and 8,030 of the buildings inspected so far were found to be habitable.

Search teams were still digging through dangerous piles of rubble Monday, hoping against the odds to find survivors. The city has accounted for 186 of the 325 dead nationwide.

On Sunday, marines retrieved what is believed to be the last body from a collapsed school on the city’s south side where a total of 26 people – seven adults and 19 children – were crushed by a fallen wing of the school.

But like at other sites where there is little likelihood of finding anyone alive, the marines vowed to continue searching – avoiding use of demolition or heavy machinery – until “there is full certainty, duly certified by the appropriate authorities, that there is nobody left, alive or dead, in the collapsed building.”

Still, the smell of rotting corpses increasingly hung over the largest remaining search site near the city’s centre.

While no one has been found alive since Wednesday, relatives of the trapped, anxious to cling to any hope of rescue, won injunctions against actions that could cause the ruins to collapse further.

The federal judiciary council said on Sunday that court injunctions for seven points around the city prevent authorities from using backhoes or bulldozers to remove rubble, to allow “search and rescue operations to continue ... to preserve the life of people who may be among the remains of the structures.”