At least 19 children dead as fire raged in a Guyanese school dormitory

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) At least 19 students were killed and several others injured in a fire that raged overnight in a Guyanese dormitory, officials said.

“This is a terrible incident. It is tragic. It is heartbreaking,” said President Irfan Ali, adding that the government is mobilizing all resources to care for the children.

A government statement said the fire broke out just before midnight in a secondary school dormitory building in the southwestern border town of Mahdia, a gold and diamond mining community about 200 miles (320 km) south of the capital Georgetown. Authorities initially said 20 students had died, but the number later rose to 19, with several more injured. National Security Advisor Gerald Gouveia said the figures were revised after doctors reanimated a critically ill patient “everybody thought was dead.”

According to the police, 14 students died at the scene and the remaining five died at a local hospital. Two children are still in critical condition and four are seriously injured, officials said. Six students were taken to Georgetown for treatment, while five remained in hospital in Mahdia and 10 more are under observation. “Firefighters cut a hole in the northeastern wall of the building and rescued about 20 students,” the police said. “Our team is still on-site and investigating the situation to determine the extent of the fire and other necessary information.”

Gouveia said the school mainly targets indigenous children aged 12 to 18. He said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fires, adding that severe thunderstorms had hit the area, making it difficult to respond from the air.

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

He added that the government and paramedics “have made great efforts” to save as many people as possible. Ali said authorities have contacted parents and mobilized psychologists to help deal with those affected by the fire.

“The pain my parents are going through right now is immeasurable,” he said. “This is a disaster.”

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

The opposition APNU+AFC also said in a statement that they called for a thorough investigation and thanked those in the small community who helped authorities rescue the trapped children.

Opposition lawmaker Natasha Singh-Lewis said: “We must understand how this horrific and deadly incident happened and take all necessary steps to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future.