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Haiti: UN Helps Rescue Efforts In School Collapse

Senior UN official expresses sadness for deaths in school collapse in Haiti

10 November 2008 – The top United Nations humanitarian official today expressed his “heartfelt condolences” to those affected by the school building that collapsed in Haiti last week, as local authorities reported at least 89 people have died and 150 have been sent to hospital.

Search and rescue efforts, involving personnel from the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), have been underway since early Friday when the upper storey of La Promesse school collapsed during morning classes, crushing all of the classrooms on the ground level.

The Government estimated that some 260 children and teachers were in the building, which holds students from kindergarten to high school, at the time of the collapse.

“This terrible catastrophe means more suffering and tragedy for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, already struggling to recover from years of war, poverty and successive natural disasters,” said the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes.

Concerned and anxious crowds gathered almost immediately around the school, which is perched on a hillside in Pétionville, blocking access to the site for the rescue workers in the suburb of the outlying country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

“Emergency rescue teams attempting to reach trapped people have been seriously impeded by the crowds who are sometime blocking the movement of heavy lifting equipment and medical supplies and preventing the evacuation of wounded people,” said Mr. Holmes, who is also the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“I entirely understand people’s grief and desperation. But this only slows down rescue operations,” he added.

Mr. Holmes appealed for calm to allow emergency rescue workers and medical organizations to do their work. The emergency operation, conducted by Haitian, French and United States rescue teams, is expected to continue sifting through the debris until Tuesday.

“As long as there remains a chance to find survivors, one must hold back on using heavy equipment,” warned the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Hédi Annabi.


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