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15 Dead at Center Where Kids Were 'Living Like Animals'

Deadly fire took place at Haitian children's center run by controversial Pennsylvania-based group
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 15, 2020 9:45 AM CST

(Newser) – A blaze that tore through a Haitian children's home on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince killed 15 children, putting the Pennsylvania-based Christian nonprofit that runs it once more under the microscope. Rose-Marie Louis, a worker at the Orphanage of the Church of Bible Understanding, tells the AP the fire started around 9pm Thursday, and that it took firefighters about an hour and a half to get there. The home—which a UNICEF rep tells CNN isn't technically an orphanage, but a children's center, as about 80% of the children who live in such centers in Haiti have at least one living parent who just can't afford to raise them— had been using candles due to a faulty generator, Louis says.She adds that about half of the dead were babies or toddlers, while the other half were around 10 or 11 years old. Reuters reports two children burned to death, while the other 13 died from smoke inhalation.

Jovenel Moise, Haiti's president, said in a tweet he was "deeply moved" by the children's deaths and urged "urgent measures" to find out what happened. The AP notes the two children's homes in Haiti run by the Church of Bible Understanding have long been plagued with issues. After inspections that began in 2012 found overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and poorly trained staff, the group lost accreditation for the homes. A local judge who surveyed the charred center Friday tells AFP there were no fire extinguishers to be seen and that living conditions were "truly, truly neglected," leaving the children "living like animals." As for the kids displaced by the fire, the head of Haiti's Institute of Social Welfare and Research tells Reuters the children will be placed in a "transit center" while arrangements are made to reunite them with their families. Much more on the controversial nonprofit here. (Read more Haiti stories.)

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