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At least 47 killed in school collapse in Haiti

November 08, 2008|The Associated Press

PETIONVILLE, HAITI — A hillside school where about 500 students usually crowded onto several floors collapsed during classes Friday, killing at least 47 people and injuring many more.

Rescuers used bare hands to pull bleeding students from the wreckage. More children were believed buried in the rubble of the concrete building, and the death toll was expected to go higher, said Yphosiane Vil, a civil protection official.

Neighbors suspected that the building was poorly rebuilt after part of it collapsed eight years ago, said Jimmy Germain, a French teacher at the school. He said people who lived just downhill abandoned their land in fear that the building would tumble onto them. He said the school's owner tried to buy their vacated properties.

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

Police Commissioner Francene Moreau said the minister who runs the church-operated school could face criminal charges.

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

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

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

A swelling crowd of parents erupted with wails and prayers as the injured were dug out and carried away and emergency vehicles raced up a winding hill to the school.

"My child, my child!" one woman yelled.

"There are no words for this," the mayor said as the search for survivors intensified.

Haitian President Rene Preval visited the scene to offer his sympathy, and asked onlookers to come down from surrounding buildings that engineers feared might have been destabilized by the collapse.

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