4 children rescued from Haiti collapse

November 8, 2008 4:20:55 PM PST
Rescuers pulled four children alive Saturday from the rubble of a three-story Haitian school that collapsed on classrooms filled with students and teachers, killing at least 84 people. Emergency workers cradled the dazed children in their arms and rushed them into ambulances on Saturday morning, U.N. police spokesman Andre Leclerc said.

The extent of the injuries to the two girls, ages 3 and 5, and two boys, a 7-year-old and a teenager, was not known, Leclerc said.

But he added the 3-year-old had a cut on her head and seemed to be OK.

"She was talking and drinking juice," Leclerc said.

Search teams from the United States and France on Saturday joined the hunt for survivors in the remains of the College La Promesse in suburban Port-au-Prince, which tumbled to the ground a day earlier. Thousands of Haitians cheered and shouted directions to rescuers and trucks carrying oxygen and other medical supplies rumbled up the mountainside.

Nadia Lochar, civil protection coordinator for the western region that includes Petionville, said the death toll had rised to 84 and that another 150 people were injured in the collapse.

Angelique Toussaint kept vigil on a rooftop overlooking the rubble and prayed that her 13-year-old granddaughter, Velouna, would be saved. Her three other grandchildren were found alive on Friday, while another granddaughter underwent an operation for a severely broken leg.

Dressed in her white church clothes, the 55-year-old Roman Catholic said she attended a group prayer for missing children the night before. Velouna's parents had gone home, exhausted from the oppressive heat and endless waiting as rescuers struggled to move the massive concrete slabs that remained.

"I think they're doing a good job. It's a little slow, but I'm relieved all these people are helping," Toussaint said.

Roughly 500 children and teenagers typically crowded into Petionville's three-story school building.

Local authorities used bare hands to pull bleeding students from the wreckage before heavy equipment and international teams began arriving on Saturday.

Nearly 40 search-and-rescue officials from Fairfax County, Virginia arrived to help rescuers.

"I see a dramatic turn-about in the situation once they're here because these guys are the real experts," said Alexandre Deprez, acting director of the U.S. Agency for International Development in Haiti. "We've done everything we've possibly can practically from the first hour."

France also sent a team of 15 firefighters and doctors with two rescue dogs. A French civil protection official, Commandant Patrick Vailli, said the workers spotted five people believed to be alive in the school's two basements and recovered two bodies.

It is unclear whether the five people were rescued alive.

Some parents clutched pictures of their children as they watched rescue workers sidestep the limbs of dead people sticking out under the rubble. Riot police chased away several Haitians who had found their way around the yellow tape and began excavating themselves.

President Rene Preval said poor construction, including a lack of steel reinforcement, was to blame for Friday's collapse of the concrete College La Promesse in Petionville.

Preval told The Associated Press that structures throughout Haiti are at similar risk because of poor construction and a lack of government oversight.

"It's not just schools, it's where people live, it's churches," he said at the site of the collapse as crews picked through the wreckage in search of more victims.

Doctors Without Borders was treating more than 80 people, many with serious injuries, said Francois Servranckx, a spokesman for the aid group.

Preval said a previous mayor of Petionville had tried to halt the expansion of La Promesse over safety concerns but the effort faltered when a new mayor came into power in the hillside suburb of the capital.

"We have got to have a consistent policy that when one administration leaves office the next continues its work," the president told AP. "The next time the mayor speaks and the authorities speak, people will listen."

Parents said they toiled endlessly throughout the year to afford the school's $1,500 tuition in hopes of empowering their children to someday escape poverty.

Haiti, the poorest and most politically tumultuous country in the Western Hemisphere, has been struggling to recover this year from riots over rising food prices and a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that killed nearly 800 people.


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