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The commercial center where hundreds were evacuated in the nick of time. The commercial center where hundreds were evacuated in the nick of time.

Hundreds saved by advance warning of commercial center’s collapse

Building was evacuated half an hour before part of it fell

Advance warning of the partial collapse of a commercial center in southern Mexico City yesterday saved the lives of hundreds of people, according to a report published today by the newspaper El Universal.

Half an hour before a section of the Artz Pedregal Commercial Plaza came crashing down just after 11:00am, private security personnel told employees and members of the public at the center that they had to evacuate immediately.

The account contrasts with the version of events provided by the Mexico City government, which said the center was evacuated three hours before the collapse occurred.

Structural faults are believed to have caused the incident. Mexico City Mayor José Ramón Amieva said the collapse was a “case of negligence” and that an investigation would determine the exact cause.

Víctor Cuéllar, a chef at a restaurant located on the third floor of the center next to the section that collapsed, told El Universal that the forewarning he and his 60 staff received came just in the nick of time.

While going downstairs on the building’s second floor, Cuéllar said, he and other restaurant workers heard “a very loud noise” that sounded like the dragging of boxes across the ground and then the building started to collapse.

After exiting a rear door of the plaza, Cuéllar and his team were engulfed by a cloud of dust that made it difficult for them to orient themselves and see exactly what had happened.

The evacuation raised suspicions that the collapse was a planned and controlled demolition but a spokesman for the plaza denied that was the case in a radio interview yesterday.

The center’s operator said in a statement that it notified city authorities as soon as it detected signs that the area would collapse.

It also said it regretted the impact the incident was having on traffic on the busy Periférico ring road, which is located adjacent to the commercial center. At least two outer lanes of the road were closed.

The order to evacuate was not the only warning sign that something ominous was about to happen at the new commercial center, which has only been open since March.

El Universal reported that before 10:00am people reported hearing a creaking sound emanating from the third floor.

Following the hurried evacuation, employees, shoppers and passersby gathered outside the plaza where they witnessed rows of windows splintering off just before the rest of the building section collapsed. Many of them filmed the incident on mobile telephones and uploaded the footage to social media.

Emergency services arrived at the scene soon after and 40 minutes after the collapse, Civil Protection Secretary Fausto Lugo said via Twitter there were no casualties.

Mexico City’s Attorney General’s office said last night that the weight of a rooftop garden might have caused the collapse. It said large planters could have added excessive weight to the building’s roof.

Source: El Universal (sp), Associated Press (en)

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