The death toll from the collapse of an overpass on the Mexico City metro rose to 24 on Tuesday as crews untangled train carriages from the steel and concrete wreckage that fell onto a roadway.
Monday night's accident was one of the deadliest in the history of the subway, and questions quickly arose about the structural integrity of the mass transit system, among the world's busiest.
Another 77 people were injured when the support beams collapsed about 10:30 p.m. local time Monday as a train passed along the elevated section, said Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.
On Tuesday, a crane carefully lowered a train car containing four bodies to the ground.
Of the 24 killed, 21 died at the scene, while the others died at hospitals. Children were among the fatalities, Sheinbaum said.
Initial analysis pointed to a "presumed structural failure," Sheinbaum said, promising a thorough and independent inquiry. She added that a Norwegian firm had been hired to investigate.
"I did not have any report nor alert of any problem that could have led us to this situation," she said.
Canada is standing with – and thinking of – the people of Mexico City this morning. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims of the tragic overpass collapse. We’re also wishing a fast and full recovery to the injured, and we’re keeping you all in our thoughts.
The overpass was about five metres above the road in the borough of Tlahuac, but the train ran above a concrete median strip, which apparently lessened the casualties among motorists on the road below.
Abelardo Sanchez, a 38-year-old cook, was just closing up his sandwich shop beside the metro line when he said the ground shook, a tremendous noise echoed, lights flickered and the air filled with dust and the smell of burning wires.
Stunned, Sanchez didn't initially react. "Then a guy in a white shirt with blood on his arms, his hands and chest came out and another guy came to help him here on the sidewalk, and he was there trembling," he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, Carlos Miramar waited under a tent on metal chairs with two other relatives to receive the body of his uncle. The 25-year-old student had been awake since beginning an "exasperating" odyssey the previous night that took him to seven hospitals and multiple prosecutor's offices in search of his uncle.
He described his uncle, 38-year-old Carlos Pineda, as a soccer fan with a buoyant personality.
"I'm tired and unable to sleep," Miramar said. "He didn't deserve this end. He was a good father, good husband and good son."
The Mexico City Metro — which is among the world's cheapest with tickets costing about five pesos, or 30 cents — has had at least two serious incidents since its inauguration half a century ago.
In March of last year, a collision between two trains at the Tacubaya station left one passenger dead and 41 people injured. In 2015, a train that did not stop on time crashed into another at the Oceania station, injuring 12.
'They are time bombs'
A magnitude-7.1 earthquake in 2017 exposed dangerous construction defects in the elevated line near where Monday's accident occurred. Authorities at the time had done patchwork repairs on the columns and horizontal beams.
Julio Yanez, a 67-year-old lawyer whose apartment overlooks the collapsed metro line, was working at his computer when he heard a loud noise and felt his building shake. He saw a cloud of dust and falling debris followed by an eerie silence until emergency vehicles began arriving. Helicopters landed at a nearby Walmart to ferry the injured to hospitals.
The scene shook him because he had exited the metro at that same station earlier in the day.
"That part there was already declared bad … in the earthquake, and the authorities didn't pay attention," Yanez said. He said similar problems were reported at another nearby station, but nothing was done. "They are time bombs."
The collapse occurred on Line 12, the subway's newest, which stretches far into the city's south side. Like many of the dozen subway lines, it runs underground through more central areas of the city of nine million but is on elevated concrete structures on the outskirts.
A report issued by the subway system in 2017 showed that the base of one column supporting the tracks had cracked and shed layers of concrete because not enough steel rebar stirrups had been used when it was built around 2010. In 2017, authorities patched and widened the column by injecting resins, swathing it in carbon fibre, building a jacket of additional rebar around the base and pouring concrete around the collar.
Authorities also found that one of the beams had come loose from its support at the top of a column and was sagging — the kind of failure that could have contributed to Monday's collapse. Authorities at the time welded steel diagonal braces to the bottom of the beam, chipped out and repoured fractured concrete elements.
Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard called the collapse "the most terrible accident we have ever had in mass transportation." Ebrard was Mexico City's mayor from 2006 to 2012 when the affected line was built.
Ebrard, who leads Mexico's efforts to obtain coronavirus vaccines, has been considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024.
"Of course, the causes should be investigated and those responsible should be identified," he wrote on Twitter. "I repeat that I am entirely at the disposition of authorities to contribute in whatever way is necessary."
The line was closed Tuesday, and hundreds of buses were called in. Thousands in surrounding neighbourhoods lined up before dawn to catch the buses to get to work.
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