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Fire razes school dormitory in Guyana, killing at least 19 children, many of them indigenous


GEORGETOWN, Guyana — A nighttime fire ripped through a dormitory in Guyana early Monday, killing at least 19 students and injuring several others at a boarding school serving remote, mostly indigenous villages, authorities said.

“It’s a horrible incident. It’s tragic. It’s painful,” President Irfaan Ali said, adding that his government was mobilizing all possible resources to care for the children.

The fire broke out shortly before midnight in a secondary school dormitory in the southwestern border town of Mahdia, a gold and diamond mining community about 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of the capital , Georgetown, the government said in a statement.

Officials initially said 20 students were killed, but later updated the toll to 19, with several others injured. National Security Adviser Gerald Gouveia said the figure was revised after medics resuscitated a very critical patient who “everyone thought was dead”.

“When firefighters arrived on the scene, the building was already completely engulfed in flames,” the Guyana Fire Department said in a statement. “Our heartfelt condolences go out to the parents and friends of these young souls.”

The department said 14 students died at the scene and five more at a local hospital. Officials said two children remained in critical condition and four were seriously injured. Six students have been airlifted to Georgetown for treatment, while five others remain in a hospital in Mahdia, and 10 others are under observation.

“Firefighters were able to rescue approximately 20 students by drilling holes in the northeast wall of the building,” the department said. “Our team is still on the ground investigating as we seek to clarify how the fire started and any other information needed.”

The school primarily serves indigenous children between the ages of 12 and 18, Gouveia said. He said it was too early to speculate on what might have caused the blaze, adding that severe thunderstorms in the area posed a challenge to those responding by air.

“It was a battle for us,” he said. “The pilots were very brave, very determined.”

He added that the government and emergency responders “made a mammoth effort” to save as many people as possible.

Ali said officials were contacting parents and mobilizing psychologists to help care for those affected by the fire.

“I can’t imagine the pain of parents right now,” he said. “It’s a major disaster.”

Local newspaper Stabroek News reported that the fire started in a girls’ dormitory.

The opposition party, APNU+AFC, also released a statement saying it would call for a full investigation and thanked residents of the small community for helping authorities rescue the trapped children.

“We must understand how this most horrific and deadly incident happened and take all necessary measures to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future,” said opposition MP Natasha Singh. -Lewis.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.