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Finding Canadians missing in Haiti a daunting job as reliable info hard to find

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Several Canadians may be among those pinned under the rubble of the University of Port-au-Prince building ... or may be not.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Several Canadians may be among those pinned under the rubble of the University of Port-au-Prince building ... or may be not.

With 1,115 Canadians still unaccounted for in Haiti following last week's devastating earthquake, the process of finding reliable information about their whereabouts is onerous, bordering on impossible.

Outside the crumpled mass of concrete that used to be the university, Canadian police officers waded into the small crowd that had assembled outside the gates Sunday.

They were told a group of CEGEP teachers, Quebec's equivalent of junior college, were giving a one-week seminar on project management when the earthquake struck last Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear if Denis Bellavance, a computer science professor from Drummondville, Que., was one of them.

His body was found in the rubble of the university building, officials at the Canadian school where he worked confirmed Saturday.

"When I left class, I saw two teachers still inside," said Florisme Cloudy, a student in the seminar who left the building before the quake struck.

Wadnerson Boileau's sister, also a student in the seminar, was not so lucky. He has not seen or heard from her since Tuesday.

"We don't know how many Canadians were inside," Boileau said. "May be they were taking a break."

A Spanish search-and-rescue team, whom Canadian police were escorting through the city, sent a dog sniffing about the rubble, but it smelled no signs of life.

The Canadian officers asked if anyone knew the names of the teachers, or what CEGEP they had come from, but no one did. The school's administrators have thus far been unreachable.

"There is not much chance of finding survivors now," said Montreal police officer Jeannot Carrier through a surgical mask, a common sight as the smell of death hangs over parts of the city.

"People had heard noises a couple of days ago, but nothing now."

Though Canadian casualty figures are likely to mount in coming days, officials suggest poor communication accounts for many, if not most, of the missing.

The figure of 1,115 is composed of inquires made to Ottawa from people who have yet to hear from friends or family. Cellphone service is unreliable at best and many major roads are impassable. The embassy estimates some Canadians have opted to stay in rural areas rather than brave chaotic Port-au-Prince.

"We're not that concerned about that number," said a consular official in Port-au-Prince speaking on background.

The embassy can do little by way of inquires other than cross the names of those Canadians who show up at their gates off the list.

Staff are completely overwhelmed sifting Canadian-passport holders from the long-lines of Haitians seeking any way out of the country.

A rumour spread on Sunday that the Canadians were offering to evacuate anyone with valid passport. An aggressive crowd swarmed outside the embassy's main gate on Rue Delmas.

At one point Canadian soldiers entered into a shoving match with those surging to get inside.

Those that do get through the gate face waits of 12-24 hours before they can board outbound military planes.

So far about 600 Canadians have been evacuated from Haiti.