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, among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, but have become acute in recent weeks.
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 requests for comment sent to its email address and left it 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 and did not identify herself.
By Friday noon, dozens of people – including former residents – were on the three-storey orphanage floor, and her upper stories were smoked by smoke. Orphanage staff were taken to a local police station for interrogation, while surviving children were transferred to another orphanage.
Among those who stopped, Gardi Charles, 36, said he spent 25 years in the orphanage. He said of the generations of children who lived there: “This whole country has grown up.”
according to websiteThe group opened the first orphanage in Haiti in nearly four decades with six children, and now runs two orphanages with around 150 children and supports others 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.
Feldon said that the orphanage is one of 754 workers in the country, although only 35 of them are government-approved. She said that the authorities have closed 160 unaccredited centers in the past five years.
Mrs. Feldrawin added that the facility operated by the Church Understanding the Bible “should have been closed”.
According to the Associated Press, the Bible Understanding Church lost reliance on orphanages in Haiti several years ago due to unsanitary and overcrowded conditions, as well as insufficient training for its staff.
Although these homes are often referred to as orphanages, many of the children who pass through them are not technical orphans but are sent there by parents who are so impoverished that they cannot support them.
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 state of emergency is part of a broader political and economic crisis that ravaged Haiti for nearly two years and involved sometimes violent street protests calling for the overthrow of President Juvenile Moss.
The Christian group 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.