Friday, November 7, 2008

Rescue continues into the night after Haiti school collapses

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- Rescue workers in Haiti will work into the night to dig out students from the rubble of a school that collapsed Friday, the Red Cross said.
Haitians try to help victims at a school that collapsed Friday in Petionville, near Port-au-Prince.

Haitians try to help victims at a school that collapsed Friday in Petionville, near Port-au-Prince.

At least 25 students died, said Alex Claudon, a Red Cross official on the scene in Petionville, near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Officials said the school could have had as many as 700 people inside, and the death toll is expected to rise.

"We are looking at major casualties here," Claudon said.

He said dozens of students appeared to be trapped inside but couldn't give an exact number. However, he said it was a typical school day and the building had been crowded.

Most of the students at the College La Promesse Evangelique range in age from 10 to 20, he said, but there are younger ones as well. Haitian press reports said the school has kindergarten, primary and secondary students.

Michaele Gedeon, president of Haiti's Red Cross, said she heard the voices of distraught children as rescuers tried to calm them while she was on the phone attempting to coordinate emergency rescue efforts. Video Watch as the Red Cross official describes the scene »

"On the phone, you can hear so many children, you know, crying, crying and saying, 'this one is dead,' 'that one is dead,' " she said.

Claudon said hundreds of bystanders and rescue workers were digging through the rubble, but "what we need right now is heavy search-and-rescue equipment."

Claudon later said, "local authorities are doing their best."

Fifty to 60 patients, 30 of them severely injured, were taken to Trinite Hospital in Port-au-Prince, said Isabelle Mouniaman Nara, the head of mission in the capital for Medecins sans Frontieres.

Trinite is the only hospital open in Port-au-Prince, the group said. The other two -- General Hospital and Hospital de la Paix -- are closed by strikes.

The school is in an extremely poor part of town, and the roads are nearly impassable, local journalist Clarens Renois said.

A United Nations helicopter was unable to land, Renois said.

"The school is poorly built," said Amelia Shaw, a journalist with United Nations TV who visited the scene.

The school consisted of two floors with an addition built in the rear over a 200-foot ravine, Shaw said by telephone. The steep hillside, she said, is covered with shanty-like housing on both sides.

The disaster occurred when the second floor crumbled onto the first, Shaw said.

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