The vehicle being lifted from the sinkhole yesterday. The vehicle being lifted from the sinkhole on Cuernavaca Paso Express.

Residents had warned officials about culvert

Locals were aware of potential drainage issue where sinkhole opened yesterday

Transportation officials had plenty of warning about drainage problems on the new Cuernavaca Paso Express highway where two people died yesterday in a sinkhole.

The collapse of a piece of the highway, which swallowed a Volkswagen Jetta and killed its occupants, was caused by a faulty culvert, according to area residents who were aware of the problem even before construction started.

Federal Transportation Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza said following the accident that the drainage system 15 meters beneath the highway had functioned well for 40 years, but residents of Chipitlán, where the sinkhole appeared, say otherwise.

And they said so on July 3 when they set up a partial roadblock on the Paso Express, demanding that the culvert be replaced, fearing flooding if it were not.

That same day, José Luis Alarcón Ezeta, the state representative of the federal Transportation Secretariat (SCT), visited the affected area and met with residents.

Municipal clerk Mario Meneses handed Alarcón an official notice regarding the situation.

The document stated that “after the strong rains and the deficient work on the Paso Express . . . I inform you that a wall built in the area is about to collapse given that a culvert, which was already in bad shape, was not replaced by a new and appropriate one . . . .”

The document had pictures attached of the affected wall and a cave of sorts that had formed beside the highway, caused by the water that was no longer being carried away by the old culvert.

“We handed in the document that day, but we had reported the situation before by phone and messages; we could see a landslide coming. They didn’t heed our warning and there you have the consequences,” Meneses told the newspaper Milenio.

The municipal clerk explained that the problem was an old one, as the place where the sinkhole appeared was originally the Santo Cristo ravine, and the culvert had been installed to carry that water away.

“We told the firm [in charge of the construction of the Paso Express] and the secretariat that they had to replace the culvert with one that was new and larger. I don’t know if they were in a rush to complete the highway . . . [the stretch at Chipitlán] was the last to be built . . . .” said Meneses.

He added that the culvert could not withstand the intense rainfall in recent days.

The construction consortium that built the Paso Express said in a prepared statement that the collapse of the culvert and drainage system under the highway was caused “by erosion . . . accumulated garbage and the intense rains.”

The companies Epccor and Aldesa explained that since the culvert was 15 meters under the highway, it was not part of the construction project.

Both firms lamented the deaths of the two men in the sinkhole, and declared they were collaborating “thoroughly” with the SCT to determine what caused the accident and in reestablishing operation of the highway.

SCT chief Ruiz has ordered a report to determine the cause. He said sanctions will be applied to public officials or the firms in charge of the construction if any deficiencies or omissions are found.

He also offered to resign his post over the accident if asked to do so.

It was learned today that one of the victims sent a text message to his employer at 5:30 yesterday morning pleaing for help after the vehicle fell into the hole.

Family members of the victims, a father and son who were on their way to work at the time of the accident, said they plan to sue authorities for negligence.

Source: Milenio (sp)

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