Sat | Oct 20, 2018

Engineers: lives lost in Mexico quake could have been saved

Published:Tuesday | October 10, 2017 | 12:11 AM
An apartment building that was partially destroyed during the 7.1 magnitude earthquake, on Emiliano Zapata Avenue in Mexico City.


MEXICO MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Nearly two-thirds of the buildings that collapsed in Mexico City's monstrous earthquake last month were built using a construction method that is now forbidden in seismic hotspots in the United States, Chile and New Zealand, according to new data compiled by a team of structural engineers at Stanford University.

The suspect building technique called flat slab -- in which floors are supported only by concrete columns -- caused 61 percent of the building collapses in last month's magnitude 7.1 quake, which killed 369 people and blanketed tree-lined avenues in rubble.

Now, several prominent engineers say some of those structure failures could have been prevented and lives could have been saved had Mexico City officials only gone forward with a proposal to forbid that type of construction when they toughened building codes after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico's capital.

"We have known for 30 years that this system killed lots of people, so why are we still using it?" asked Eduardo Miranda, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and global expert on earthquake-resistant design who compiled the data obtained by The Associated Press. "The right decision after '85 would have been to completely ban this kind of construction. We could have saved lives."

Anahi Abadia and her husband were among the fortunate: they were in Home Depot when the earthquake hit, shaking the store so fiercely the structure screeched. Minutes later, a text came in from their neighbor: The elegant apartment they had purchased only six months earlier had collapsed, rendering their new home a pile of crushed concrete.

Two women working in Abadia's trendy apartment building died on Sept. 19 when the structure collapsed after a corner column failed, and the flat-slab structure pancaked, Miranda said.