As of this morning, more than 90 bodies have reportedly been recovered from beneath the rubble in the aftermath of the collapse of a private school in Pétionville that housed more than 500 students. Pétionville is a suburban town, just few miles east of the capital, Port-au-Prince. With hundreds more still to be recovered, Haiti is facing yet another tragedy of immense proportion.
The tragedy has further exacerbated the political tension, which has already reached fever pitch, according to some observers.
CSMS Magazine correspondent at large in Haiti, Germina Lageau, has reported that relatives of the victims have strong suspicion that rescuers are purposely slowing their efforts in order to collect more wages. This has contributed to widespread outrage among the population. According to our correspondent, Ms. Lageau, hundreds of residents, frustrated and furious over the slow pace of the effort to retrieve those still buried under wreckage, brook through police barricades, invaded the rubble and began tearing away debris with their bare hands.
Eyewitnesses applauded them. But that did not last long, for the Haitian police and UN peacekeepers quickly moved in to chase them away with riot shields and sticks.
The slow pace has also created another side effect. Residents in the area are beginning to flee from the unbearable stench coming from bodies still buried beneath the rubble.
Many in the neighborhood, whose homes were damaged or destroyed as the school collapsed, complained that they saw it coming and that they had long complained to the authorities about the unsafe condition of the building. Eight years ago, the school partially collapsed but was rebuilt. Friday’s collapse was precipitated by construction on the third floor—a lucrative business for school owner, Fortin Augustin, who sets his yearly tuition at $1,500 per student.
Fortin Augustin was reportedly arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. However, Haitian officials have been suggesting that he may face life in prison. Even though greed and negligence committed by Augustin cannot be ignored, many fear the rush to blame Augustin is just another ploy by the authorities to avoid shared blame and to camouflage the structural inadequacies and hazardous construction that contributed to the school’s collapse as a result of government blind eye in construction safety and code in Haiti.
According to the Associated Press, Haitian president, René Préval, has conceded that poor construction and the absence of government oversight put many key buildings throughout Haiti in grave danger of tragedies similar to last week’s collapse. “It’s not just schools, it’s where people live, it’s churches,” he said.
One wonders, what’s next for the already deprived country?
Also see: Tragedy in Petionville, Haiti