Haiti mourning after carnival accident kills 16

2015-02-18 06:01
Haitian President Michel Martelly places a candle in memory of the victims who died during celebrations in the National Carnival of Haiti. (Hector Retamal, AFP)

Haitian President Michel Martelly places a candle in memory of the victims who died during celebrations in the National Carnival of Haiti. (Hector Retamal, AFP)

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Port-au-Prince - Haiti is observing a day of mourning on Wednesday after at least 16 people died when a high-voltage cable hit a parade float in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Another 78 people were injured in the accident, which occurred shortly before 03:00 as thousands watched, marring what is normally a joyful high point of the year in the impoverished Caribbean country.

Authorities cancelled the third and last day of the carnival celebrations on Tuesday and declared three days of mourning.

Several thousand people including President Michel Martelly and cabinet chief Evans Paul participated in a silent march along the carnival route to pay homage to the victims.

Musicians silenced their instruments and dancers walked quietly - a stark contrast to the revelry of the previous day.

Along the Champ de Mars, the parade ground not far from the presidential palace where the accident took place, the bleachers - normally full of festive crowds - stood quiet.

"What happened is a tragedy," Paul said.

The float - carrying a popular rap group called the Barikad Crew - struck a power line overhead as it made its way through the Champ de Mars, electrocuting the dancers and musicians riding on it.

The group's star singer, who goes by the name "Fantom", was struck directly by the fallen cable and was in hospital, the website Haiti Press Network said.

Some of the injured were hurt in the ensuing crush of revellers who panicked upon seeing the accident.

Family members besieged a main hospital complex in the capital to find their loved ones as doctors struggled to treat those injured by the huge electrical shock. Others went to identify the dead.

Solidarity march

Paul had called on Haitians to pay homage to the dead by marching silently at the Champ de Mars.

"Sharing in the grief of the families affected by this drama, the government has decided to suspend all carnival festivities across the country," his office said in a statement.

The period of national mourning will formally begin on Wednesday, with flags to be flown at half-mast on all public buildings.

National funerals were to take place on Saturday.

The area where the accident occurred has been a focal point of Haiti's turbulent modern history - a witness to dictatorships, revolutions and in 2010 a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake that killed more than 300 000 people.

The festivities had begun on Sunday with the theme "Nou Tout Se Ayiti" - Creole for "We are all Haiti".

Frantic relatives

About 80 to 100 people, some of them weeping, gathered at the morgue of the Hospital General to see if family members had been brought there. A few people collapsed in grief.

President Martelly extended his "sincere condolences" to the victims in a message on his Twitter account.

Communications Minister Rotchild Francois said the government "stands ready to assist everyone affected by this tragedy".

"The government has made all the arrangements to organize national funerals for the victims of the accident," he said on Twitter.

The United States said it was "deeply saddened."

"The accident is all the more saddening coming during Haiti's national festivities for carnival," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.

"During this difficult time our thoughts and prayers are with the people and government of Haiti."

UN special representative Sandra Honore also said she "offers her deepest condolences to the families, relatives and friends of the victims and wishes the injured a speedy recovery”.

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