Pattaya Daily News

08 November 2008 :: 15:11:27 pm 28534

School Collapse In Haiti Kills At Least 75

PÉTIONVILLE, Haiti ? The death toll in the collapse of a school in Haiti has risen to 75, the mayor of Pétionville said Saturday after crews uncovered a classroom filled with students and a teacher.
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The mayor, Claire Lydie Parent, said that at least 17 students were found crushed as crews continued to search for victims.

Hundreds of students may been inside Collège La Promesse Evangelique, a hillside school operated by a church, when the concrete building collapsed Friday, officials said. President Rene Preval of Haiti said there are buildings throughout the country that are at risk of similar collapse because of shoddy construction and lax oversight.

Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, military commander for the United Nations, said the accident is the worst he has seen since coming to Haiti almost two years ago.

Rescuers worked furiously through the night under floodlights to pull children from the wreckage and give water to those still stuck in the rubble. Thousands looked on from beside the school and across the valley, cheering each time a live student emerged.

But the rescue effort was chaotic and disorganized from the start. The throngs of grieving and screaming onlookers made it impossible for United Nations peacekeepers, Red Cross workers and Haitian authorities to bring trucks and heavy equipment for much of Friday afternoon.

On Friday night, a truck carrying a backhoe to the scene crashed into several cars. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured or whether the truck was privately owned or belonged to the Haitian government.

Neighbors said they suspected that the building had been poorly reconstructed after it partly collapsed eight years ago, said Jinny Germain, a French teacher at the school.

Ms. Germain said people who had lived just down the hill had abandoned their land out of fear that the building would tumble onto them. She said the school?s owner had tried to buy up the vacated properties.

The school?s third story was still under construction, and Mayor Parent said she suspected that a structural defect had caused the collapse, not recent rains.

Francene Moreau, the area police commissioner, said the preacher who runs the school could face criminal charges.

About 500 students from kindergarten through high school attend the school, the Collège La Promesse, situated in the hills above Port-au-Prince, Ms. Parent said. She did not know how many students were inside the school when it collapsed late Friday morning.

The aid group Doctors Without Borders helped free 85 people from the wreckage, half of whom had life-threatening injuries, Max Cosci, the group?s director in Haiti, said on Friday. Volunteers arrived with shovels and axes and said they would try to provide water to people who were trapped inside.

A swelling crowd erupted with wails and prayers as emergency vehicles raced up a winding hill to the school and the injured were carried away.

?My child, my child!? a mother yelled.
?There are no words for this.?
The Dominican Republic, Haiti?s neighbor, was sending two helicopters to help, the Dominican health minister, Bautista Rojas, said.

United Nations peacekeepers and the Haitian police also arrived, trying to clear a path for three battalions of military engineers from Brazil, Chile and Ecuador who came to help in the rescue.

Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, the senior United Nations commander, had to walk uphill to get through the crowd.

?This is going to be an all-day affair,? said Matt Marek, a Red Cross official. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, has been struggling to recover from widespread riots over rising food prices, a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that left nearly 800 people dead.

The United Nations peacekeepers were sent to Haiti after the ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. They have tried to improve security by fighting gangs and training the local police.

Source from:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/world/americas/09haiti.html

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : PDN staff   Category : World News

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