(AFP) – Nov 8, 2008
PETION-VILLE, Haiti (AFP) — Rescuers uncovered a classroom full of dead students Saturday after searching through the night for survivors of a school collapse in a Haitian shantytown which killed at least 84 people and left 150 injured, authorities said.
The three-story building caved in Friday morning during class, destroying neighboring homes and leaving scores of students and teachers trapped beneath huge slabs of cement and twisted steel rods.
As many as 700 students aged between three and 20 attended the church-run school on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince, though it was unclear how many were inside when the building came crashing down.
Youth and Sports Minister Evans Lescouflair late Saturday told a briefing the death toll had hit 84, with at least 150 more hurt.
As the death toll continued to rise, Haitian President Rene Preval warned that there was no telling how many more bodies might be found.
"This morning we found a classroom with 21 inside -- students and their professor -- and they are all dead," said Preval, who along with Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis had rushed to the scene to oversee the rescue effort.
"Right now we cannot say how many bodies we will have because the work is not yet finished."
At the time of the collapse, builders had been adding a new floor atop the La Promesse school in Petion-ville, officials said.
Many frantic parents managed to return to the site on Saturday to look for their children despite the deployment of Haitian police and UN troops to keep them out.
On the ground floor, bloodstains, small shoes, workbooks and writing left unfinished on the blackboard testify to the panic as students and teachers fled as the school began to crumble.
In one classroom, 6F, two bodies are visible among the mass of concrete and mangled steel reinforcing rods.
UN engineers and soldiers from the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) worked to remove heavy pieces of concrete and to contain the large crowds of people.
Cries of distress could be heard around the site, from still-alive students and teachers beneath the rubble and from parents desperately searching for their children.
A deeply distressed Marie Flore said she had no news of any of her three children.
The International Red Cross, the Haitian Red Cross, members of the UN Haiti peacekeeping force and other groups joined in the rescue.
By late Friday some 50 bodies, most of them children, had been found. But the toll kept rising.
More children could still be trapped beneath the rubble, Nadia Lochard, a spokeswoman from the civil protection bureau told AFP early Saturday.
At the hospital run by Doctors Without Borders, medics worked around the clock to save the injured. Eight patients died during the night, but there were success stories.
"Two seven-year-old children -- a boy and a girl -- have been saved," Lochard said. "One of them underwent a successful operation," she said, without elaborating.
The two children found in the rubble Saturday were in addition to two who were rescued overnight Friday night into Saturday.
US Agency for International Development (USAID) search and rescue teams meanwhile arrived at the scene to assist.
And French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner expressed "deep emotion" over the tragedy and promised to send "a civil security team as soon as possible to help the Haitian authorities in rescuing the victims who are still buried."
Other officials pledged an investigation into the construction of the school and a survey of other education establishments that might be at possible risk.
"This construction did not meet normal standards. We are going to ask the minister of education to make an inspection of all the schools built in the same way," senator Yvon Bissereth told AFP.
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