Azam Ahmed and Marina Franco reported from Mexico City, and Henry Fountain from New York. Elisabeth Malkin and Paulina Villegas contributed reporting from Mexico City.
MEXICO CITY — The devastation caused by Tuesday’s earthquake in Mexico City was far less than it might have been, and a fraction of what the city suffered in the quake of 1985.
But one main reason had to do with the nature of the earthquake itself and less with the toughened building codes adopted in the last 30 years, as many people had thought.
Although the new codes now rank among the world’s best, their enforcement is deeply flawed and uneven, according to interviews with scholars, officials and building inspectors.
Building inspections have essentially been outsourced to a network of private engineers who are hired and paid for by the developers, creating conflicts of interest that can undermine even the best standards.
Tighter building codes, better construction materials and a robust public awareness surely played a role in limiting the carnage this time around. Fewer than 300 people died and about 40 buildings collapsed, while nearly 4,000 buildings were declared severely damaged and are likely to be uninhabitable, officials have said.
But what spared this metropolitan area of 21 million was, at least in part, luck.
The 1985 earthquake was 30 times more powerful than the one on Tuesday. It toppled apartment and office towers, killing more than 10,000 people.
Tuesday’s earthquake, while centered closer to the capital, struck hardest at smaller, less populated buildings, taking fewer lives.