Haiti’s prime minister led thousands of Haitians in a national funeral for 17 people who died in a carnival float accident Tuesday. The accident put an abrupt end to Haiti’s most festive holiday, and raised questions about safety and whether government negligence played a role in the accident.
The 17 were killed in a stampede that started after a carnival float singer hit a power line with his head just before 3 a.m., electrocuting him and causing a loud and bright explosion that sent the crowd into a panic, triggering a stampede. The singer, Daniel “Fantom” Darinus, was hospitalized with severe burns. One of Darinus’ colleague’s said the singer thought he had cleared all of the low hanging power lines, so he turned his attention toward the crowd. Seventy-six others were injured in the chaos.
The funeral was held in Port-au-Prince’s Champ de Mars park, on the capital’s main avenue. In a speech during the ceremony, Prime Minister Evans Paul called it a “national tragedy” and said it was right to hold a national funeral for the dead, who were laid in caskets draped with Haitian flags, the Miami Herald reported. President Michel Martelly and first lady Sophia Martelly also were in attendance.
Some mourners became hysterical and had to be taken away by family members and fellow mourners.
Paul told the crowd Saturday of his own grief after his sister died in a soccer stadium stampede in 1976, saying he and his family “didn’t find anyone to stand with us.”
Paul said the government has a responsibility to ensure safety, and earlier this week his government announced it would launch an independent investigation into the incident. It is not yet clear if any of the dead was electrocuted. Some carnival performers and family members of the dead criticized Paul’s government for failing to keep the massive festival safe, during which thousands gather and floats often come dangerously close to low-hanging power lines.
“Today’s ceremony was nice, we’ll see what will be done for us in the future,” said Junior Paul, whose 21-year-old brother died in the stampede, Reuters reported.
Some Haitians took to the street to protest the government's alleged negligence earlier in the week. Haiti is still recovering from a 2010 earthquake that devastated the already poor Caribbean country. The government is heavily underfunded and a lack of transparency has led many to accuse it of being wasteful of billions of dollars in international aid received since 2010.