UN peacekeepers help in rescue effort after deadly school collapse in Haiti

7 November 2008

United Nations peacekeepers are helping rescue workers dig through the rubble of a school building in Haiti after it collapsed this morning, killing at least 11 children and severely injuring dozens more.

The upper storey of the two-storey school collapsed during morning classes, crushing all of the classrooms on the ground level. So far, 75 children and teachers have been reported injured and evacuated to two local hospitals.

“UN blue helmets are on the scene clearing rubble and trying to help people buried under the debris,” David Wimhurst, a spokesperson from the UN mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH, told the UN News Centre.

Frantic rescue efforts are under way but the scene of the accident is surrounded by thousands of people, including anxious family members of the hundreds of children who attend La Promesse School in Pétionville, an outlying suburb of the country's capital, Port-au-Prince.

The crowds are making it difficult for rescue workers to gain access to the site to dig out survivors and provide emergency care. The UN commander in Haiti, Maj. Gen. Carlos Alberto Dos Santos Cruz, had to park a kilometre away and walk through the amassed group to get to the school.

“If we can't get rescue equipment in and out it's going to be hard to help the people trapped in the building,” said Mr. Wimhurst.

Peacekeepers are using ambulances to help clear a passage for rescue workers and to transport survivors to hospitals.

By mid-afternoon some 60 blue helmets – including military engineers from Brazil, Chile and Ecuador as well as military from the Philippines – that were helping with crowd control had also delivered 540 litres of water to people still buried in the rubble and survivors suffering from dehydration.

MINUSTAH had also provided three generators and three sets of industrial strength lighting to aid emergency rescue efforts through the night.

“This is a terrible tragedy for the families involved and the children but also for Pétionville itself, which is a huge metro area. It is also a tragedy for the national community because of the loss of life to children,” said Mr. Wimhurst.

News Tracker: Past Stories on This Issue

Blue helmets in Haiti assist in new school year after devastating storms

United Nations peacekeepers are helping Haitian families face the new school year by distributing school kits and furniture and cleaning up buildings as the impoverished Caribbean country struggles with the effects of four successive storms in as many weeks.