Deadly school collapse in Haiti

February 16, 2010 12:00 am

, PORT-AU-PRINCE, Feb 16 – A school partially collapsed in north Haiti on Monday after a mudslide, killing four children and bringing further catastrophe to a country already devastated by last month\’s massive earthquake.

The collapse occurred in Cap-Haitien, Haiti\’s second city located along the Atlantic Coast that was largely unaffected by the quake, which left the capital Port-au-Prince in ruins, a civil protection service official said.

It came after a rare positive sign earlier in the day with news that commercial flights into the main Port-au-Prince airport were set to resume this week for the first time since the disaster.

The civil protection official said heavy rains were to blame for the mid-afternoon school collapse.

"The accident was caused by four days of rain that caused a mudslide," said the official on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give out the information.

He said the primary school partially collapsed, leaving "four dead and two injured." All were children, he said.

The government began allowing schools outside of areas hard-hit by the earthquake to reopen at the start of February.

Firefighters and UN rescue workers called off a search at the school after determining there was no one else inside, the official said.

The incident was a new blow to a country already struggling to recover from last month\’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people, and signaled the dangers that lie ahead as more rain arrives.

Haiti has begun to see downpours ahead of the heavy rainy season, which typically starts around May.

Officials warn that the rainy season threatens to worsen already squalid conditions in camps where an estimated 1.2 million people made homeless by the earthquake now live in and around the capital.

As a result, aid groups have been seeking to distribute tarps for up to 1,500 families per day, but more than a month after the quake, UN officials said only about 272,000 people have received materials to build shelters.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew in Monday to give a boost to the relief effort in Haiti.

Harper said Canada would set up a semi-permanent, 11-million-dollar operations base for the Haitian government, kitted-out with computer hardware and communications systems.

The government is currently operating out of a concrete block police building near the airport, with the National Palace and many government ministries having collapsed in the quake.

Such an operations base could be a welcome boost to beleaguered Haitian officials, as would the reopening of commercial flights at the airport, which the US military took control of in the chaos immediately after the quake.

"We are in the process of repairing part of it to start traffic again on Friday," said a source at the airport, which has been the hub of the massive international aid operation.

Meanwhile, 10 Americans charged with kidnapping in Haiti were spending another night in jail Monday after a power cut delayed a ruling on their fate, as their ex-adviser was probed separately for sex trafficking.

Prosecutor Joseph Manes Louis said he finished writing his opinion on whether the Americans should be granted provisional release, but a power outage kept it from being printed and delivered to the judge.

The judge, who has final say in the case, left the court in the mid-afternoon — spending much of the day in darkness in his office and without running water in the building — and did not return before it shut down just before 5:00 pm.

The Americans could now remain in detention until at least Wednesday because Tuesday is a holiday for Carnival, although festivities have been cancelled following the quake.

A police investigation in El Salvador is also underway into their Dominican former legal adviser.

The adviser, Jorge Puello, now back in the Dominican Republic, denied the allegations of sex trafficking and said anyway he had no contact with the Americans prior to their arrest on January 29.

Salvadoran police say Puello could actually be Jorge Torres Orellana, accused of running an international sex trafficking ring that lured women and girls from the Caribbean and Central America into prostitution with bogus offers of modeling jobs.

"They are accusing me of something that I don\’t even know myself," Puello told AFP. "It could happen that two people could have the same name. Whatever the case may be, I\’m not afraid of anything."


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