Mexico City closes schools, restricts traffic due to smoke

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico City officials cancelled classes for millions of students Thursday for a second straight day as smoke from brush fires continued to choke the city of 9 million.

Both lower schools and universities were closed for the pollution alert and Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said they would remain closed Friday.

“We don’t expect this situation to change until the weekend,” Sheinbaum said.

She said a light, localized rain overnight had done little to cut the pollution, which remained at about 1 ½ times acceptable limits.

The city also declared a partial driving ban, but activists of the Citizen Observatory on Air Quality called Thursday for officials to limit polluting activities like truck transportation and construction sites.

The activists said the city should include extremely small particles as a cause for imposing emergency measures. Such particles are frequently found in smoke, diesel exhaust and dust. Emergency measures are currently imposed mainly for ozone levels.

The group said “forest fires are unfortunately going to be an ever more frequent problem as a result of global warming.”

Sheinbaum said officials would announce changes to the rules for declaring pollution emergencies next week.

Experts said seasonal rains — which usually start around this time of year — could help wash particles out of the air and damp down fires.

But social media users mocked authorities for waiting for Tlaloc — the Aztec rain God — to end the pollution crisis.

Twitter users noted that Sheinbaum herself, when she was in the opposition in 2017 — tweeted that “authorities are waiting for Tlaloc to save them. We need environmental policies in Mexico City.”

Federal authorities have also come in for criticism, after the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador cut the budget for the National Forestry Commission, reportedly by about one-third.

Federal Environment Secretary Josefa Gonzalez acknowledged there had been cuts in the budget for the commission, known as Conafor, which coordinates federal, state and municipal firefighting efforts.

“It is not just the cuts to Conafor, it is also the heat and the location” of the fires that has made them hard to fight, she said.