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  • Rescuers keep working on recovery of victims from the deadliest building collapse in Mexico

    Rescuers keep working on recovery of victims from the deadliest building collapse in Mexico's September 19 earthquake, at a building on Alvaro Obregon street | Photo: AFP

The 7.1-magnitude earthquake killed more than 350 people.

Mexico is still cleaning up the rubble left by its killer earthquake on September 19, but already accusations are flying that shoddy construction, official negligence and corruption made the disaster worse.

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The mayor, the Education Minister and top officials for the district have traded blame over the school's collapse, amid media reports that its principal had illegally built a swanky apartment for herself on the roof of the building.

Claudia Sheinbaum, the top district official, pressed charges this week against the principal and two former officials accused of turning a blind eye to major construction irregularities at the school.

Across the capital, 1,800 buildings suffered major damage during the quake, including at least seven that were brand new and should have conformed to strict earthquake-resistant building codes.

"Thousands of people have been left out on the street because someone didn't adequately supervise construction or accepted money to look the other way," said Max Kaiser, head of anti-corruption programs at the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

But the sight of modern-looking buildings collapsing like houses of cards lays bare the rot in the construction and building permit processes, said Mariana Campos of the public policy research center Mexico Evalua.

She mentioned the example of the deadliest collapse, that of a seven-story office building in the trendy Roma neighborhood where up to 60 people are feared dead.

"Looking at it, it didn't seem like a building that would collapse the next day. It was beautiful and well-maintained," she told AFP. "But the (defect) wasn't visible. That's how corruption works."

Now, as the country enters the recovery phase, the risk is that it will fall in the same trap again, while accusations of corruption have already emerged in the relief effort. The governor of the hard-hit state of Morelos is accused of hoarding food aid to hand it out to his supporters.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has pledged grants and special low-interest loans for rebuilding from the government's $500-million emergency relief fund.

Watchdog groups are calling for an independent review of where the money goes.

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