PORT-AU-PRINCE – At least 15 children died in a fire at a Haitian orphanage run by a US-based Christian non-profit group, authorities in that Caribbean nation said Friday.
Two children burned to death in their rooms when the fire erupted on Thursday night on Port-au-Prince’s outskirts, while the other 13 succumbed to respiratory complications at a nearby hospital, a local judge, Raymonde Jean Antoine, told reporters.
“Unfortunately, the Fermathe hospital where the victims were admitted couldn’t do much. They were already in serious condition and breathing very weakly even before they arrived there,” she said.
A candle left on a board in one of the hallways in the two-house complex was the apparent origin of the blaze.
The fire spread through the ground floor of the building and left one bedroom and other rooms completely charred, but the smoke also affected the second floor where the other bedrooms were located.
The orphanage, which had the capacity to house 66 children, has been run for the past 40 years by the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding, a Pennsylvania-based Christian organization.
Located in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, the orphanage did not have an operating permit, the director of the Institute of Social Welfare and Research, Arielle J. Villedrouin, told Magik 9 radio.
That situation is the norm in this impoverished country, with only 35 of Haiti’s 754 orphanages having a license to operate, according to that institute’s figures.
A severe political, economic and social crisis has racked Haiti since last year, leading to widespread protests between September and November.
The crisis has brought the country’s institutions to a standstill, with Haiti having had an acting prime minister since March 2019 and the parliament currently shut down indefinitely because the terms of all lower-house lawmakers and most senators have expired and no new legislative elections have been held.
Schools across Haiti were closed for nearly two months at the end of last year due to the anti-government protests, resulting in nearly 2 million children going without schooling over that period.
Although school attendance has increased significantly over the past decade, Haiti’s education system ranks at or near the bottom in the Latin America and the Caribbean region in terms of enrollment rates, days of schooling per year and educational quality.