PETIONVILLE, Haiti – Crews cleared the remnants of a collapsed Haitian school on Tuesday after the search for survivors ended.
Thousands watched from neigboring rooftops as a backhoe demolished parts of the building that still stood, revealing body parts that crews had not been able to reach. One woman buried her head between her knees as the remains of the school tumbled to the ground.
At least 89 people, mostly students, were killed when the College La Promesse suddenly collapsed on Friday. The death toll had been 94, but officials revised it downward because some victims had been counted more than once.
Removal of the debris may reveal more bodies of people trapped when the building crashed down, said Nadia Lochard, the civil protection official in charge of the area.
The demolition was ordered because the hillside structure is so weak it could still crumble and take out more homes, Lochard said.
More than 150 people were badly injured and two houses behind the school were destroyed in the hillside slum of Nerette, a maze of precarious buildings below the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville.
Searchers announced Monday that they did not expect to find more survivors or many more bodies from the huge pile of concrete and other debris.
As machines dug through the pile, the acrid stench of rotting bodies filled the air. Heavy rain began to fall, slowing down work.
Haitian authorities have said they suspect that poor construction, including a lack of steel reinforcement, caused the collapse and the school's owner has been detained on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter.
The disaster has made life even harder in Nerette. Families who had already been starving due to higher food prices went hungry for four days because they were unable to get through crowds of grieving families and spectators and U.N. checkpoints to reach the market in Petionville.
On Tuesday, the U.S. charity Food for the Poor distributed rice, bottled water and T-shirts to more than 200 people a few blocks from the school.
The government also pledged Tuesday to pay each grieving family 100,000 Haitian gourdes, or about $2,500, to cover funeral costs, said Steven Benoit, who represents Petionville in the Haitian Parliament's lower house.
As the demolition neared, neighbors had to dodge a yellow backhoe nearly as wide as the street when it rumbled past their houses and almost clipped power lines.
"Get your families out of there!" Haitian firefighters screamed to those watching from rooftops downhill from the school.
Silence then fell across the densely populated ravine as the machine cut into what had become a mass grave over the past five days.