School Collapses in Petionville, Search and Rescue Underway
Some emergencies can be predicted. Every hurricane season, we can anticipate that Haiti will likely be hit with tropical storms. Others such as the collapse of a school in Petionville yesterday are unexpected tragedies. The community was, as is usually the case, the first to respond. They tried to remove as much of the rubble as possible but were hampered by a lack of heavy equipment. Search and rescue operations continued through the night and casualties now stand at 75. According to President Preval, shoddy construction practices could result in other collapses. Below is an AP article by Jonathan Katz on the situation.
PETIONVILLE, Haiti (AP) - A school building collapsed during classes on Friday, killing at least seven people and injuring many more students, some of them pulled, bleeding, from the rubble. More children were believed buried in the rubble and rescuers used bare hands and hand tools to get to them.
An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of five children and two women, as well as dozens of injured students, some with bleeding heads, pulled from the collapsed building.
Matt Marek, head of programs for the American Red Cross in Haiti, said he thought the death toll will go much higher. "This is going to be an all-day affair," he said. Roughly 500 students from kindergarten through high school attend the school in the hills above Port-au-Prince , Petionville Mayor Claire Rudie Parent told the AP. She said she did not know how many were inside at the time of the late-morning collapse.
As rescuers carried the injured from the rubble of the concrete building, a swelling crowd erupted with wails and prayers. "My child, my child," one mother yelled. "There are no words for this," the mayor said as the hundreds of bystanders and rescue workers searched for survivors.
United Nations peacekeepers and Haitian police tried to clear a path through the onlookers so that three battalions of military engineers from Brazil , Chile and Ecuador could assist in the rescue.
U.N. military commander Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz said he had to park a kilometer (about a half-mile) away and walk to the wrecked school because he couldn't get by the crowd.
Parent said she suspected a structural defect caused the second story of the La Promesse school to collapse onto the first. The mayor said she doubted recent rains contributed to the collapse. Volunteers arrived with shovels and axes and said they were going to try to deliver water to anybody who was trapped under the rubble. Other people shouted prayers as emergency vehicles raced up a winding hill to the school.
Haiti , the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere , has been struggling to recover from a chaotic year that has included widespread riots over rising food prices and a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that killed nearly 800 people.
The U.N. peacekeepers were sent to Haiti following the bloody ouster of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004 and have boosted security by fighting gangs and helping develop local police.