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4 kids pulled alive from school’s rubble

At least 88 killed in collapse of Haiti structure; owner arrested

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A man takes a break from rescue work at the College La Promesse in Petionville, Haiti, on Saturday. Teams from U.S. and France joined rescue efforts.

A man takes a break from rescue work at the College La Promesse in Petionville, Haiti, on Saturday. Teams from U.S. and France joined rescue efforts.

Ramon Espinosa, Associated Press

PETIONVILLE, Haiti — Rescuers pulled four children alive Saturday from the rubble of a three-story Haitian school that collapsed on classrooms filled with students and teachers, killing at least 88 people.

Emergency workers cradled the dazed children in their arms and rushed them to ambulances, U.N. police spokesman Andre Leclerc said. The extent of the injuries to the two girls, ages 3 and 5, and two boys, a 7-year-old and a teenager, was not known, Leclerc said. But he added the 3-year-old had a cut on her head and seemed to be OK.

"She was talking and drinking juice," Leclerc said.

Also Saturday, Haitian police arrested the owner of the school.

Police spokesman Garry Desrosier said Fortin Augustin, the preacher who owns and built College La Promesse, was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter. Augustin is being held at a police station in Port-au-Prince.

Search teams from the United States and France joined the hunt for survivors in the remains of the College La Promesse in suburban Port-au-Prince, which tumbled to the ground a day earlier, crushing two homes behind it.

Nadia Lochard, civil protection coordinator for the western region that includes Petionville, said the death toll rose to 84 on Saturday, with 150 others injured and many more still missing.

Later, U.S. rescuers using digital cameras on long poles to look under the rubble found six or seven bodies but think that two of them were already included in Lochard's death toll, said Evan Lewis, a member of the team from Fairfax County, Virginia.

Parents clutched pictures of their children as they watched rescue workers sidestep human limbs sticking out from the rubble. Riot police chased away several Haitians who had found their way around the yellow tape and began excavating themselves.

Roughly 500 students typically crowded into the hillside school, which had been holding a party the day of the collapse, exempting students from wearing uniforms and complicating efforts to identify their bodies, Lochard said.

Thousands of Haitians cheered and shouted directions as trucks carried oxygen and medical supplies up the mountainside all day Saturday. By nightfall, hundreds stood in the shadows across a ravine behind the collapsed school watching rescuers pick through the rubble amid floodlights.

Doctors Without Borders was treating more than 80 people, many with serious injuries, said Francois Servranckx, a spokesman for the group.<

Angelique Toussaint meanwhile kept vigil on a rooftop overlooking the rubble and prayed that her 13-year-old granddaughter, Velouna, would be saved. Her three other grandchildren were found alive on Friday, and one granddaughter underwent an operation for a severely broken leg.

Dressed in her white church clothes, the 55-year-old Roman Catholic said she had attended a group prayer for missing children. Velouna's parents had gone home, exhausted from the oppressive heat and endless waiting as rescuers struggled to move the massive concrete slabs that remained.

"I think they're doing a good job. It's a little slow, but I'm relieved all these people are helping," Toussaint said.

Local authorities used their bare hands to pull bleeding students from the wreckage before heavy equipment and international teams arrived late Friday and Saturday to help, including some 38 search-and-rescue officials and four rescue dogs from Virginia. France also sent a team of 15 firefighters and doctors from the nearby island of Martinique.

"These guys are the real experts," said Alexandre Deprez, acting director for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Haiti, which flew in the U.S. rescuers. "We've done everything we've possibly can."

Neighbors told French rescuers they'd heard children's voices under the rubble on Friday night and tried to pass them some cookies. But at that moment, the teetering ruins shifted and crashed down, silencing their cries, said Daniel Vigee, head of the French rescue team.

And as they readied to work through the night on Saturday, U.S. rescuers only heard silence, said Capt. Michael Istvan, operations chief for the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue team.

President Rene Preval, who has visited the concrete school three times since its collapse, said poor construction and a lack of steel reinforcements were to blame and warned that structures throughout Haiti run a similar risk.

"It's not just schools, it's where people live, it's churches," Preval he told The Associated Press as crews picked through the wreckage.

A previous mayor of Petionville had in fact tried to halt the school's expansion citing safety concerns, Preval said.

"We have got to have a consistent policy that when one administration leaves office the next continues its work," he said. "The next time the mayor speaks and the authorities speak, people will listen."

Parents said they had toiled endlessly to afford the school's $1,500 tuition in hopes of empowering their children to someday escape poverty in the capital's hillside suburb.

Haiti, the poorest and most politically tumultuous country in the Western Hemisphere, has struggled this year to recover from riots over rising food prices and a string of hurricanes and tropical storms that killed nearly 800 people.