In Ruins of Quake-Ravaged School, Mexican Officials Seek Answers

No building is facing more scrutiny than the school. Almost as soon as soon as rescue workers rushed to pull children from the wreckage, questions multiplied as to whether the owners had broken rules to expand the school over the years.

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Mexico City, Before and After the Earthquake

Dozens of buildings in Mexico City were destroyed by the earthquake and now pose a risk to rescue workers and residents.

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Ms. Sheinbaum said the school, which was founded in 1983, had been cited twice for building without a permit — first in 2010 and again in 2014. Both times, the school applied retroactively for a permit, paid the fine and resumed construction, she said in a telephone interview.

Many documents were missing, however, because her predecessor had left Tlalpan’s offices in chaos, Ms. Sheinbaum said, and she did not know what the school had built on those occasions.

“The most important thing is that the building collapsed,” she said.

Ms. Sheinbaum has asked Mexico’s College of Engineers to carry out the investigation to determine why the older of the school’s two buildings gave way. The building was constructed before strong new regulations came into effect after a deadly earthquake in 1985, and it may never have been upgraded, she said.

Under city rules, the school had filed a civil protection plan with the authorities in June, which included up-to-date approvals from inspectors. An inspector had also reviewed the school after the 8.1 earthquake that devastated parts of the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas on Sept. 7, but the school was not required to submit that report.

The earthquake last week, which was centered in the state of Morelos to the south of Mexico City, affected Tlalpan, in the south of the capital, with more force than any other part of the city. Most earthquakes occur off the Pacific Coast, and their waves intensify in the soft soil below the capital.

The impact of the earthquake may push officials to tighten building codes or review how they are enforced.

“We live in a city of enormous vulnerability,” Ms. Sheinbaum said. “We need to assure safety for millions of people.”

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