Deaths of 13 children in fire at Haitian orphanage run by US church 'could have been avoided'

Vincent Wood
People stand outside the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding where a fire broke out the previous night in the Kenscoff area outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti: AP

A fire has swept through a US-run orphanage on the island of Haiti, killing 13 children, healthcare workers have said.

The Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding caught fire at roughly 9pm on Thursday (2am Friday GMT) in the Kenscoff region just outside Port-Au-Prince, according to witnesses. One employee said the orphanage had been using candles for light due to a generator failure.

It took firefighters 90 minutes to arrive at the burning children’s home, which is run by the Church of Bible Understanding - a non-profit organisation based in Pennsylvania, USA.

Roughly seven of the 13 victims were babies or toddlers, while the others six were between the ages of 10 and 11.

Jean-Francois Robenty, a civil protection official, said rescue workers arrived on the scene on motorbikes and did not have the necessary bottled oxygen or access to ambulances required to take the children for further treatment.

"They could have been saved,"' he said. "We didn't have the equipment to save their lives."

The Church of Bible Understanding, a group based on evangelical Christian which has been accused of being a cult, lost accreditation for its children's homes after being reprimanded by Haitan authorities due to overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and a lack of trained staff.

The group have operated in the Caribbean country since 1977, providing two homes for nearly 200 children. In a tax filing for 2017, the group reported revenues of $6.6m (£5m) and expenses of $2.2m (£1.7m).

A member of the group, who identified themselves only as Jim when approached, referred questions to their lawyer in Haiti, whom he did not identify.

Additional reporting by AP.

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