Fifteen children killed in Haiti orphanage fire

A fireman inspects a room inside the orphanage.
A fireman inspects a room inside the orphanage.PHOTO: AFP
Burned remains are seen in a room inside the orphanage.
Burned remains are seen in a room inside the orphanage.PHOTO: AFP
Firefighters speak to a local judge (centre) as they point at the orphanage.
Firefighters speak to a local judge (centre) as they point at the orphanage.PHOTO: AFP
A firefighter points at the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding.
A firefighter points at the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding.PHOTO: AFP
A civil protection worker pours water over burning debris inside a bedroom at the orphanage.
A civil protection worker pours water over burning debris inside a bedroom at the orphanage.PHOTO: REUTERS

KENSCOFF, HAITI (AFP) - Fire swept through an unlicensed orphanage outside Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince, killing 15 children, a judge told AFP on Friday (Feb 14).

The building - which had not been authorised to operate as an orphanage since 2013 - housed about 66 children, said magistrate Raymonde Jean Antoine.

The fire in Kenscoff - a town of 50,000 south of the capital - began shortly after 9pm Thursday (10am on Friday, Singapore time), she said.

Two children died in the blaze and 13 others died at a hospital as a result of smoke inhalation, said Judge Antoine.

According to one of the children, the fire was ignited by candles that the children had lit in their rooms because the electricity was out, she told AFP.

An investigation is under way to determine the exact cause of the fire and identify the people responsible for the orphanage.

'LIKE ANIMALS'

Antoine entered the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding on Friday morning to report the death of the two victims in the building itself. Their ages have yet to be determined. She also will document the damage caused by the fire.

The two-storey 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 saw.

"The children's living conditions are truly, truly neglected: all we see are children living like animals," Antoine said, adding that there were no fire extinguishers to be found.

Only three adults were present at the time of the fire.

"This orphanage does not have permission to run," confirmed Arielle Jeanty Villedrouin, the director of the Haitian office of children's welfare (IBESR).

"It's an organisation that, I believe, receives money from the religious sector, foreign missionaries, I don't know exactly, but therefore illegally."

At the start of 2019, IBESR had found that only 35 of the 756 juvenile accommodation centers identified throughout the impoverished country had the necessary operating permits.

In addition to the judicial investigation, the government is working to "recover the surviving children, who are traumatised after the tragedy, and place them with the IBESR's transition center where they will receive psycho-social support," Villedrouin said.

In 2017, Lumos, an NGO founded by the writer JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame to reunite orphanage kids with their parents, reported that at least US$70 million are received yearly by just a third of the orphanages in Haiti.

The estimate was produced after the sole analysis of foreign NGOs' budgetary reports, as the accounts of religious missions were not made available.