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School collapse kills at least 30 in Haiti

More could be buried in rubble

By Jonathan M. Katz
Associated Press / November 8, 2008
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PETIONVILLE, Haiti - A hillside school where roughly 500 students crowded into several floors collapsed during classes yesterday, killing at least 30 people and injuring many more.

Rescuers used bare hands to pull bleeding students from the wreckage.

More children were believed to be buried in the rubble of the concrete building, and the death toll was likely to go higher, said Yphosiane Vil, an civil protection official.

Neighbors suspected that the building had been poorly rebuilt after it partly collapsed eight years ago, said Jimmy Germain, who teaches French at the school.

He said that people who lived just downhill had abandoned their land out of fear that the building would tumble onto them, and that the school's owner tried to buy up their vacated properties.

The concrete building's third story was still under construction, and Mayor Claire Lydie Parent of Petionville said she suspects a structural defect caused the collapse, not the recent rains.

Police commissioner Francene Moreau said police have launched an investigation into the accident, and said the preacher who runs the church-operated school could face criminal charges.

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

The aid group Doctors Without Borders pulled out 85 people, half with life-threatening injuries, said Max Cosci, the group's director in Haiti.

Volunteers arrived with shovels and axes, and said they would try to deliver water to people trapped inside.

A swelling crowd erupted with cries and prayers as the injured were carried away and emergency vehicles raced up a winding hill to the school. "My child, my child!" one mother yelled.

United Nations peacekeepers and Haitian police were on the scene, trying to clear a path for three battalions of military engineers from Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador to assist in the rescue.

The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, was sending two helicopters to help. France promised to send a rescue team as soon possible.

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