PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – A fire destroyed an orphanage in Haiti run by a Christian group based in Pennsylvania, killing at least 17 children, the country’s welfare authority said on Friday.
The cause of the fire has not been determined, but one official said investigators were focusing on a burning candle used for light during a power outage. Chronic energy shortages in Haiti are among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Ariel Ganti Feldruen, director general of the Institute for Social Welfare and Research, who oversees social care programs and responsible for issuing accreditations, said the Pennsylvania Group had not obtained permission to operate the orphanage.
“It is a very sad situation,” said Ms. Feldroen, who cited the candle as a pioneering investigation theory.
In one suburb of Port-au-Prince, the orphanage is run by the Church of the Understanding of the Bible, a group that describes itself as a small Christian fellowship with presence in New York, Florida, and California alongside Pennsylvania, and has been involved in Haiti since 1977.
The group did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to its email address and left in a voicemail message at its office in Scranton, Pennsylvania. A woman who answered the phone at the group’s office in Haiti declined to comment, but did not identify herself.
according to websiteThe group opened its first orphanage in Haiti in nearly four decades with six children, and now runs two orphanages with around 150 children and supports other orphanages with weekly food deliveries. The group said that residents of orphanages range from young children to adults.
“The bulk of our work in Haiti is to save children,” the group said on its website. “Sometimes we recognize a child who is seriously ill during our food distributions, and sometimes, unfortunately, they are abandoned at our doorstep or in a nearby area, and sometimes they come through referrals from friends or people who work with us.”
The group’s website said the work was funded by donors and business operations.
According to the Associated Press, the group lost its accreditation in orphanages in Haiti several years ago due to unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, as well as insufficient training for its employees.
In 1985, he was a judge in Manhattan The group ordered the arrest of fleeing residents and other unaccompanied children in its buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn because it did not obtain a license from the state’s Social Services Department.
Several months ago, state officials who visited the buildings found fleeing children living in harsh conditions.
Haiti has long had problems with its electricity supply. But the contractual dispute between the private electricity company and the government has made matters worse in recent months, leaving vast areas of the capital and the rest of the country in frequent darkness.
The energy emergency is part of a broader political and economic crisis that devastated Haiti nearly two years ago and included frequent and sometimes violent street protests led by the opposition that called for the overthrow of President Juvenile Moss.
The Christian group now owns Olde Good Things, an architectural rescue operation that has stores in New York City and Los Angeles. Store revenue supports the group’s business in Haiti, according to the business website.
Harold Isaac wrote from Port-au-Prince, and Kirk Simpel from Mexico City.