PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A fire has swept through an orphanage located on the southern outskirts of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince last Thursday, killing at least 13, and as many as fifteen children.
A local judge said that two children had died in the blaze, while another 13 had died at the hospital as a result of smoke inhalation.
The orphanage, run by a Pennsylvania bible group reportedly has a capacity of 66 children.
Rose-Marie Louis, a child-care worker at the facility, said that she saw 13 children’s bodies being carried out of the Orphanage which is known locally as the Church of Bible Understanding.
Louis, who worked at the orphanage said the fire began around 9 oclock on Thursday night. Fire brigades did not arrive until 1 1/2 hours later, she said. Louis added that the fire started as the children were using candles because the power generator had failed.
Louis said about half those who died were babies, and the others were around 10 or eleven years old.
Catiana Joseph, a doctor at the Baptist hospital where the children were taken, said the victims were between 3 and eighteen.
Rescue workers arrived at the scene on motorcycles and didn’t have bottled oxygen or the ambulances needed to transport the children to the hospital, Jean-Francois Robenty, a civil protection official, was quoted as saying.
“They could have been saved,”‘ he said. “We didn’t have the equipment to save their lives.”
There are reports more bodies will be found.
Earlier reports said that there were a long-standing series of problems at the two children’s homes run by the Pennsylvania-based Church of Bible Understanding.
The group lost accreditation for the homes after a series of inspections starting in November 2012. Haiti health officials would not renew the orphanages licenses saying they were overcrowded, unsanitary and did not have enough adequately trained staff.
According to local media an unannounced visit was made to the group’s two homes, catering for a total of 120 kids, in 2013 and found bunk beds with faded and worn mattresses crowded into dirty rooms. ‘Sour air wafted through the bathrooms and stairwells. Rooms were dark and spartan, lacking comforts or decoration.’
‘The two-story building was in a state of complete disrepair, with bunk beds, some in deplorable condition, crammed into small rooms, a cramped staircase and only one usable exit door, an AFP reporter who inspected the building on Friday said.
The Church of Bible Understanding, based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, operates two homes for nearly 200 children in Haiti as part of a “Christian training program,” according to its most recent nonprofit organization filing. It has operated in the country since 1977. It identifies the homes as orphanages but it is common in Haiti for impoverished parents to place children in residential care centers, where they receive lodging and widely varying education for several years but are not technically orphans.
“We take in children who are in desperate situations,” the organization said in its tax filing for 2017, the most recent year available. “Many of them were very close to death when we took them in.” The nonprofit reported revenue of $6.6 million and expenses of $2.2 million for the year.